While their names are immortalized on the state and national peace officer memorials, the legacies of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty are also preserved close to home, in the agencies and communities they served. Here’s a look at how two of the PORAC members we lost last year are being honored by their local associations, departments and the public they helped to protect. If you ever happen to visit these areas, we encourage you to pay your respects at their public memorial sites.
Elk Grove: Officer Tyler Lenehan
When Officer Tyler Lenehan was killed by a drunk driver on State Highway 99 in Sacramento while riding his police motorcycle to work on January 21, 2022, the tragedy was especially devastating for Elk Grove because it was the first time the community had lost an officer in the line of duty since its police department was founded in 2006. A formal public monument to Lenehan has yet to be built, but the agency’s Laguna Palms Way headquarters is being renamed the Lenehan Public Safety Center, there is a lobby display inside honoring him, a mural is being painted and his colleagues have transformed his locker into a memorial.
Lenehan’s law enforcement family is also ensuring that he is remembered in the wider community. The Department partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to create a special remembrance patch that officers wore this past January, around the anniversary of Lenehan’s death, to help raise awareness about the dangers of impaired driving. Also in January, the stretch of Highway 99 that runs through Elk Grove between Grant Line and Sheldon roads was designated as the Police Officer Tyler “Ty” Lenehan Memorial Highway.
Perhaps the most special commemoration is one that reflects Lenehan’s joy in his work as a motor officer. Before he came to Elk Grove, Lenehan trained as a motor officer with the Galt Police Department. The motorcycle he rode during training later happened to be purchased at auction by Voodoo Tactical in Southern California, which buys and resells motorcycles from all around the country. The bike’s arrival at Voodoo was an amazing coincidence — because Lenehan’s brother-in-law, Jared Clark, worked there. Although the motorcycle’s decals had been stripped off, Clark noticed the keychain had a little flashlight labeled “Galt P.D.” He called Lenehan to ask about it, and based on the bike’s patterns of scratches, Lenehan confirmed it had been his. After Lenehan’s death several years later, Voodoo and Clark donated the former Galt motorcycle to Elk Grove as a tribute. With a special paint job honoring Lenehan, the bike is being sent to Washington, D.C., for Police Week and used to escort surviving family members of fallen officers to memorial events. Once it returns to Elk Grove, it will serve as a community memorial to Lenehan and the job he loved.
Huntington Beach: Officer Nicholas Vella
In addition to being honored on the wall of the Orange County Peace Officers’ Memorial, located at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy in Tustin, fallen Police Officer Nicholas Vella is remembered on a memorial wall in the front lobby of the Huntington Beach Police Department, along with the two other officers the department has lost in the line of duty throughout its history. (“There is also a plaque honoring Officer Vella at a local speakeasy, but you’ll have to ask a Huntington Beach police officer in person to show you this one,” Huntington Beach POA President Mark Wersching notes for fellow PORAC members wishing to toast Vella’s memory in the city he served.)
In early February of this year, a three-mile portion of Beach Boulevard between the Pacific Coast Highway and Talbert Avenue in Huntington Beach was renamed the Officer Nicholas Vella Memorial Highway. And on February 19, the anniversary of the day Vella was killed when the police helicopter he was riding in crashed into Newport Bay, the Huntington Beach and Newport Beach police departments unveiled a memorial plaque at Newport Beach’s Marina Park. Overlooking the waters where the crash occurred, the site is both a sobering reminder of Vella’s tragic loss and an enduring tribute to his love for flying, the ocean and the local communities he dedicated his life to protecting.