City unveils statue honoring officer killed by drunk driver

DOWNEY - In a moving tribute, with hundreds of local residents, law enforcement, and city officials in attendance, the Downey Police Department unveiled a poignant memorial last Thursday honoring the life of Officer Wayne Presley, the only Downey officer killed in the line of duty.With Presley's widow, Linda Ray, looking on, members of the City Council quietly unveiled the bronze statue, which sits in front of the Police Department and depicts a kneeling officer with one hand over his face while holding a folded American flag in the other. Downey Police Chief Rick Esteves said the memorial served as a fitting tribute to "a good man who served his community well." It was April 10, 1981, more than 30 years ago, when a drunk driver struck both Presley and fellow Officer Steve Guthrie while they assisted a stalled big rig on Florence Avenue, just west of Lakewood Boulevard. Presley, just 37, was killed instantly. Guthrie was critically injured but eventually returned to work at the police department where he went on to serve for 25 years. He retired five years ago as sergeant and currently teaches introduction to law enforcement for Downey High School's Regional Occupation Program. Guthrie said he was on his way home that tragic night when he stopped to assist Presley with the stalled tanker. The two officers, who both lived in La Mirada, typically rode home together. "We were waiting for the tow truck and I was looking eastbound - that's the last thing I remember," he said. "It's been thirty years, but it seems like it was yesterday. Wayne was my best friend, a brother…it was quite a loss. I don't know why I survived, but it's by the grace of God." In a sober moment during the ceremony, Guthrie placed a folded United States flag on the memorial in honor of his fallen friend. Linda Ray then tearfully placed flowers on the memorial dedicated to her late husband's service and sacrifice. "It's a nice honor for him - and it means a whole lot to me," said Ray, who remembers Presley as an easygoing man who loved his job. "He had a passion for motorcycle riding. As a young man in Missouri, he used to ride and break horses. He always said he missed the horses so that's why he loved motorcycles." While Ray doesn't recall much from that difficult time in her life, she is grateful for the memorial and said it brings closure for her and the Downey Police Department. In brief remarks during the ceremony, Mayor Luis Marquez praised the police department and its efforts to honor Presley's legacy. "This means a lot for our community to recognize our only fallen officer with such a beautiful monument. Now the entire city of Downey will be able to remember who Wayne Presley was," said Marquez. "This memorial truly honors our police department which works so hard to keep our city safe. We hope no other names will be added to it." The memorial was conceived by Downey narcotics detective Chris Kurtz, who suggested a monument be built to honor the sacrifice of Presley on the 30th anniversary of his tragic death. After approaching Esteves with his idea, a team of nearly a dozen officers began working on concepts to memorialize Presley, who served nearly 10 years in the Navy before becoming a police officer. The project was funded through a combined $90,000 from both police asset forfeiture money and the city's public art fund. Esteves said he came away from the ceremony with tremendous pride after watching his department unveil an honor that was long overdue. "Some officers are saying it was the greatest day in their careers," said Esteves. "They're proud to be a part of this police department."

********** Published: September 29, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 24