Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino
Photo credit: Mendocino County Sheriff's Office
An overflow crowd of more than 2,000 people filled two auditoriums and a large tent Wednesday morning in Fort Bragg to honor a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy killed last week in the line of duty.
The memorial service for Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino, 48, drew an estimated 1,500 law enforcement officers from multiple states and hundreds of citizens who crammed into the coastal town to pay their respects.
Del Fiorentino, a veteran deputy and former Fort Bragg police officer, was shot to death one week ago while attempting to catch a wanted man.
In a 90-minute service that began with bagpipes and drums, numerous friends, family and co-workers spoke, remembering Del Fiorentino as a mountain of a man with a smile and a laugh that could melt hearts and defuse all kinds of situations.
A repeated theme was the man's profound love for his family and friends.
"I had six perfect years with him and I wouldn't trade it for anything, even though I hoped for more," said his wife, Beth Del Fiorentino.
Fort Bragg Police Officer Andrew Kendl told of meeting Del Fiorentino when Del Fiorentino became his middle school wrestling coach. They later became fast friends as Kendl also became a Fort Bragg officer.
"He was a guy who could give you a hug and change your day," Kendl said.
There were tears and laughter as the huge audience watched a slideshow and short videos of the man, whose stains his uniform betrayed how much he loved to eat and whose smile and laugh melted hearts.
"This is amazing for all these people to come out here to pay their respects. It shows how much they loved and respected him," Mark Silvestri, who also served with Del Fiorentino in Fort Bragg, said after the memorial.
Earlier Wednesday morning, several hundred people lined the main route through Fort Bragg, standing in the rain, to watch as a procession of about 1,000 law enforcement vehicles slowly passed by.
"The guys with the white hats, you never want to see go," said Linda Thornquist-Stump, a Fort Bragg hospice worker who came out Wednesday to "honor all police officers and the job they do every day."
Matt Richter, a Fort Bragg tile contractor, said he was there "just to show respect for Ricky. He's just a stand-up guy."
Traffic was so heavy before the service that large areas outside town were turned into parking lots for the event. Shuttle buses were used to transport people to Fort Bragg Middle School.
The 10 a.m. memorial was held in Cotton Auditorium, adjacent to the school, where about 900 people filled every seat and lined the walls. Another 500 or so people filled the school's gymnasium and several hundred more stood under a tent set up on campus.
The service, which started with bagpipes and drums, was was streamed to the gymnasium and tent. More people who didn't get a seat remained at the school.
"I just wanted to see the quantity of law enforcement vehicles honoring the fallen," said Pastor Bob Fuller of the Fort Bragg Calvary Baptist Church.
The procession of police cars and other law enforcement vehicles started in Ukiah at 6 a.m. and made its way to Fort Bragg. Northbound Highway 1 was closed to traffic at one point, where motorists were stopped until the procession arrived and passed.
Once in town, the procession diverted several blocks off the main route to pass by Del Fiorentino's home. The slain deputy's wife, Beth Del Fiorentino, then joined the cavalcade in a black SUV. She waved to people lining the streets, passing by some holding a banner in honor of her husband, reading "thank you for your service."
Included in the procession were several police cars carrying 14 officers from Eugene, Ore., where suspect Ricardo Antonio Chaney's trail of violence and death started, according to law enforcement officials.
Chaney is suspected of killing George Bundy Wasson, 79, whose body was found shortly after midnight March 19 in the charred remains of his home near the University of Oregon. Minutes later, authorities said, Chaney carjacked two men in Eugene and fled to California.
The 12-hour crime spree ended in Fort Bragg, where deputies spotted the stolen car and began a pursuit. Chaney is accused of spraying the deputy's patrol car with bullets from an assault rifle as Del Fiorentino drove up.
Chaney died after exchanging gunfire in a shootout with Fort Bragg police Lt. John Naulty.
Copyright 2014 - The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service