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Solano County, Calif. Reserve Deputy Killed in High Speed Pursuit

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April 24, 2004

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Solano County, Calif. Reserve Deputy Killed in High Speed Pursuit

Officer Down: John Sandlin - [Solano County, California]

A volunteer Solano County, Calif. sheriff's reserve deputy died in a car accident after he was ejected from his patrol car as it spun out of control during a pursuit in Fairfield, authorities said Saturday.

John Sandlin, 66, died after an accident Friday night on Cordelia Road near the intersection of Interstates 680 and 80, according to the Solano County Sheriff's Office and the California Highway Patrol, which are conducting separate investigations.

Sandlin, a retired U.S. Navy officer from Vallejo, was an unpaid 20-year veteran reserve deputy who had been patrolling the streets most Friday nights in that area for the past decade.

"He'd been out on that road at least 1,000 times before," said Sheriff Gary Stanton, who broke down several times during an emotional Saturday news conference. "We lost a brother -- a man who has been part of our department for 20 years."

Sandlin, and patrol partner Deputy Jason Roper, had just responded to back up a deputy who was checking out a suspicious vehicle, Stanton said.

As they were stopped by the side of the two-lane road, a motorist sped past them headed in the opposite direction. Sandlin made a quick U-turn and accelerated after the speeder, according to the CHP.

Then just after Sandlin passed a car in a left-hand curve just west of Hale Ranch Road, his right tires left the pavement. The 2000 Ford Crown Victoria's right rear tire hit a large rock, causing it to flip over, the CHP said.

Sandlin was ejected while Roper suffered minor injuries. Sandlin, who was found about 10 to 15 feet away in water-filled ditch, died later at North Bay Hospital.

Sandlin apparently was not wearing his seatbelt -- a violation of department policy, investigators said.

Authorities said they do not have a definite description of the speeding vehicle Sandlin was chasing. The sheriff hopes someone from the public will give them information about the driver's identity. It was unclear whether that person would face any criminal charges.

Even though he was an unpaid volunteer, Sandlin earned the respect of his colleagues and was looked up to by many younger deputies, Capt. Thomas Ferrara said.

"He was a mentor to all of us," Ferrara said. "He may have been in his 60s, but he had the energy of a young pup -- more enthusiasm than lots of guys in their 20s."

In addition to his night patrol duties, Sandlin frequently worked guarding prisoners for jail appearances.

It was an incident that stemmed from his guarding an accused Vallejo drug dealer "half his age and twice his size" that led to Sandlin receiving the department's highest honor last year, the Medal of Valor.

The inmate Sandlin was guarding asked to be released from his handcuffs to use the bathroom, then after finishing he jumped the deputy and tried to grab his gun, Stanton said.

"It was a knockdown, drag-out fight," Stanton said. "The prisoner got his pepper spray and used it on him. He also gave John quite a beating. But John hung in there" and eventually drew his gun and convinced the inmate to surrender.

Even after the beating at an age when most guys would have retired and done nothing more exerting than a round of golf, Sandlin still loved working as a street cop.

"He loved police work," said Gary Aylworth, who is president of the deputies union in Solano County. "He was a delight to be with in a patrol car. He was great with civilians on patrol, he had this friendly manner that could get anyone to cooperate."

Sandlin, who had a pilot's license, got his start as a reservist flying a plane for departmental search and rescue operations. Then in his early 50s, he decided he wanted to work the street. He paid his way through the police academy and began volunteering for open shifts, particularly weekends when younger officers wanted to be with their families.

Sandlin also socialized with many deputies away from work. He worked as a handyman, doing many projects for members of the department. He built decks, installed lights or windows and updated electrical wiring for many deputies.

"God only gives you so many talents and none were wasted on John Sandlin," Aylworth said.

Sandlin, who leaves behind a wife and three adult children, is the third Solano County deputy killed in the line of duty and the first since Aug. 25, 1985, when Deputy Jose Cisneros was shot to death during a traffic stop near Vacaville.

The deputy is the sixth law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty in California this year and the second in the Bay Area in two weeks after San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza was gunned down in the Bayview district.

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