DUI suspect arrested after crash kills Calif. motorcycle officer

Elk Grove police officer Tyler Lenehan was killed by a wrong-way driver on his way to work

Duty Death: Tyler Lenehan - [Elk Grove, California]

End of Service: 01/21/2022


By Michael McGough, Darrell Smith, and Sam Stanton
The Sacramento Bee

ELK GROVE, Calif. — Elk Grove's police chief told a community in mourning of the officer he lost Friday, killed by a wrong-way driver on his way to work for the city he swore an oath to protect.

His name was Tyler Lenehan, a six-year Elk Grove police veteran, who only last year, in 2020, realized his dream of becoming a motor officer. On Friday, Lenehan became the first police officer in the city's history to die in the line of duty. Lenehan leaves behind a wife and two children.

"He was a husband, father, son, friend and a family member to those of us in the Elk Grove Police Department," a somber Timothy Albright told reporters gathered outside Elk Grove Police Department Friday afternoon. " Elk Grove Police Department and our community are grieving today. Our hearts are broken. And we know our community grieves with us."

Lenehan was known as "Ty" to his fellow officers and was just as known, his chief said Friday, for "his infectious smile, his genuine, loyal heart."

A candlelight vigil in Lenehan's memory was held Friday night at the police department and a memorial fund has been set up through CAHP Credit Union.

California Highway Patrol officers arrested Jermaine Jeryan Walton in connection with the deadly collision. Officers said the 31-year-old Walton was "walking away from the scene" when he was detained.

The CHP said Walton was booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail on "several felony DUI related charges." Jail records show he was also being held without bail on one count of murder.

Court records show Walton faced a misdemeanor charge in 2017 in Sacramento Superior Court for driving with a blood-alcohol level above .08. He pleaded no contest to the charge Jan. 24, 2018, and a driving under the influence charge was dismissed. Walton was sentenced to 18 days on the sheriff's work project and 3 years probation, court records showed.

That conviction could lead prosecutors to seek a murder charge against him, authorities said, with DUI defendants from 2017 routinely given what is called a "Watson advisory" warning that if they drive under the influence and are involved in an incident that kills someone they could face a murder count.

"We're reviewing the case, but the basis of the murder charge was, did he receive a Watson advisement or was otherwise on notice that his conduct could result in death," Chief Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard said. "We'll be reviewing the reports and make a decision on what the appropriate charge is."

Lenehan came to law enforcement from the United States Air Force, beginning his career with the Citrus Heights Police Department before joining the Galt Police Department, Albright said. Lenehan joined the Elk Grove police force in 2016.

Lenehan was in uniform and aboard his department-issued motorcycle at the time of the collision on Highway 99 early Friday. A fellow peace officer who was on the road witnessed the collision and rendered aid to Lenehan, Albright said.

"We have never suffered a loss in the Elk Grove Police Department," Albright said. "This hits hard for us."

Harder still for the tight group of Elk Grove motor officers who rode with Lenehan and the families who see them off each day, said Elk Grove Councilwoman Stephanie Nguyen. Her husband is a 14-year Elk Grove police veteran who rode six years as a motor officer.

"This is what I feared for my husband," Nguyen said Friday, her voice breaking. "We got the news early this morning. My husband told me he was from the motor unit and I saw the emotion. He was on his way to work. He didn't get to say goodbye to his family. It's a nightmare no one wants to see come true.

"Motor officers are a very close group, so this is hitting them very hard," Nguyen continued. "You can only imagine what they're going through, but it hits close to us all. It could have been any one of them."

Authorities around 5:15 a.m. received a 911 call reporting a wrong-way driver heading north on southbound Highway 99 near 47th Avenue, the CHP South Sacramento office said in a news release.

Minutes later as CHP officers were still en route, another 911 caller reported that a wrong-way vehicle had crashed into a police motorcycle near 12th Avenue, according to the news release.

Investigators determined Walton was driving a 2016 Dodge Challenger northbound in the fast lane of southbound Highway 99.

"The Dodge collided head on with the Elk Grove Police officer causing him to be ejected from his motorcycle," CHP officials wrote. The Dodge driver "displayed objective signs and symptoms of alcohol intoxication" and was placed under arrest.

The CHP said Walton was booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail on "several felony DUI related charges."

The Elk Grove Police Department confirmed that the major-injury collision involved one of its motorcycle officers, who was rushed to a local hospital.

Albright announced the officer's death in a Facebook livestream shortly before 11 a.m.

The police chief said the officer, a six-year department veteran, was on his way to work when a car traveling northbound on southbound Highway 99 struck his motorcycle.

"Staff came to our officer's aid immediately, and incredible life-saving measures were attempted," Albright said, but the officer died at the hospital Friday morning.

The CHP investigated the wrong-way crash throughout the morning. Southbound Highway 99 was closed to traffic for hours, as well as nearby ramps along Highway 50 and the Capital City Freeway.

All lanes and ramps reopened around 11:45 a.m., Caltrans said.

Aerial video from KCRA 3 showed a blue Dodge Challenger facing northbound in the fast lane of southbound Highway 99, with severe damage to its front end and a mangled police motorcycle on the ground nearby.

Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen shared a message on social media upon hearing of the motor officer's death, calling the city "heartbroken" at the department veteran's passing.

"Our community is in mourning. We lost an officer in a wrong-way crash on their way to work earlier today on Highway 99. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and our police department. We are heartbroken."

Elk Grove Vice Mayor Darren Suen also expressed his sympathies in a statement.

"We're all heartbroken by this tragedy," Suen said. "Whereas the circumstances could have happened to anyone on the freeway, our officer gave his life on his way to protecting our city. My heart goes out to his wife and children."

(c)2022 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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