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Brad Marsh, longtime Santa Rosa police officer, Army veteran and bird rescuer, dies at 72

Inclined all his life to service and action, Sebastopol’s Brad Marsh flew a combat helicopter in Vietnam at age 18, then he worked a distinguished career as a Santa Rosa police officer, and in retirement found a passion for helping out some of the most impressive birds of prey that soar above Sonoma County.

Through it all, Marsh, who began at the SRPD in 1976 and retired in 2003, was a family man, a friend to many and a community member regarded as genuine, able, caring and the sort of person who’s just great fun to be with.

He died Monday morning at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital from complications of a medical trial intended to help him avoid a recurrence of the cancer discovered last December in a lymph node above his right lung. The father of two and grandfather of three was 72.

Marsh grew up in Millbrae and was a young Vietnam veteran when he made a start in law enforcement with a Bay Area narcotics task force in 1972. His future wife, Stephanie Yaggy, was a fellow undercover San Mateo County sheriff’s deputy on the regional anti-drug force.

“His favorite story of our first date,” she said, “is that we were buying coke together.”

The couple married in 1974, about a year after he was hired onto the South San Francisco Police Department by its chief, Sal Rosano. Only months after the wedding, which he attended, Rosano took a new job as police chief in Santa Rosa.

He so highly regarded Marsh that he asked him to come work for him in Santa Rosa. The transfer worked out well for all involved.

“He was a great officer there (in South San Francisco) and he was an even better officer here,” Rosano said. He promoted Marsh to sergeant in 1982.

Marsh worked nearly every position in the department: patrol officer, investigations and motorcycle traffic-enforcement supervisor, narcotics officer, detective. Stephanie Marsh said the work he found most fulfilling “is probably what took the biggest toll on him.”

That was investigating child abuse. While working to bring alleged abusers to justice, Marsh developed bleeding ulcers.

His wife remembers that he was in treatment for them at Palm Drive Hospital when a nurse walked into his room and both of them recognized the other. Marsh had years before busted her for heroin-related violations.

Stephanie Marsh said the nurse then told her husband that being arrested by him was what motivated her to turn her life around. She thanked him and urged him to take better care of himself.

Blaine Hunt, a retired Santa Rosa police sergeant who worked with Marsh for nearly 30 years, remembers them once being on a multi-agency search warrant and Marsh suddenly stopping short and declaring, ’This is not right, something is not right here.’ “

He was right, Hunt said. “It turned out the informants gave bad information, and it was a bad case.”

As a supervising sergeant, Hunt added, Marsh “was a natural-born leader. His people respected him, and they did what he wanted them to do and how he wanted them to do it, and they all loved working for him.”

Rosano, the retired chief, remembers telling Sgt. Marsh several times that he’d like to promote him to lieutenant. But Marsh declined, saying he preferred supervising officers in the field to taking a desk as a lieutenant.

He finally accepted that promotion about a year before his retirement in 2003.

As his wife recalls, it was about two years later that one of their cats attacked a Towhee nest, causing bedlam. Her husband gathered up the surviving young birds and drove them from Sebastopol to the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa.

The very next week, the same cat ravaged another Towhee nest. Marsh again delivered surviving birds to the rescue center.

His wife said he felt so badly about the cat attacks and so grateful to the Bird Rescue volunteers that he offered to help out at the center, located on an old county-owned property off Chanate Road. He began in the bird hospital and before long was working with birds too badly injured to be returned to the wild.

Recalls his wife, “Once he discovered raptors, that was it.”

Also known as birds of prey, raptors are the fleet, sharp-taloned hunters of the avian world: eagles, hawks, owls, falcons, osprey.

Marsh knew nothing about them at first, but his fascination with the powerful, gorgeous birds drove him to seek information from more experienced volunteers at the Santa Rosa center, and also at other such facilities.

In time he was expert on the care, rehabilitation and return to nature of raptors that fall from nests or are injured when they’re hit by vehicles or shot or they fly into a power line or fence. Bird rescuers from far and wide sought him out for assistance or advice.

“It’s really because of him that we have the reputation we do in terms of raptor care,” said a tearful Ashton Kluttz, executive director of the all-volunteer Bird Rescue Center. She said Marsh was responsible for the rescue, rehabilitation and release of thousands of birds of prey.

“I can’t even imagine what it would be like if Brad hadn’t entered Bird Rescue.”

Jeremy Nichols, president of the center’s board, said the “always cheerful” Marsh was a superb volunteer. “From rebuilding hawk wings to renesting baby owls to working with other organizations in and out of Sonoma County, Brad’s work was critical to the success of our efforts to return wings to the wild.”

Marsh’s passion for the rescue center and the many hours he spent there prompted his wife to volunteer as well. Stephanie Marsh is now a member of the board deeply involved in a capital project to build a new center near Cotati, as the organization must vacate the Chanate property so that the county can sell it.

LeRoy Bradbury Marsh III was born Aug. 9, 1947, in San Francisco. He attended Catholic schools through the eighth grade and graduated in 1965 from Mills High School in Millbrae.

The United States’ war with the former North Vietnam was growing when Marsh enlisted in the Army in April of 1966. He was trained to fly the Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter and was still just 18 upon being given command of one in the war zone.

“He was the youngest combat pilot in the Army while he was there,” Stephanie Marsh said. Fifty years later, the former pilot and police officer beamed to watch a once-grounded raptor take again to the sky.

In addition to his wife in Sebastopol, he is survived by his daughter, Heather, in Windsor; his son, Sean, in Seattle and three grandchildren.

A celebration of his life will be planned once people can once again safely gather.

Marsh’s family suggests donations in his memory to the project to build a new Bird Rescue Center. Contributions can be mailed to the Bird Rescue Center, P.O. Box 475, Santa Rosa 95402, or made online at:

https://birdrescuecenter.org/donation-form/

You can contact Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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