Santa Rosa officer who died of coronavirus honored in public safety procession across North Bay
A miles-long phalanx of Sonoma County police and public safety vehicles crossed two county lines and traveled more than 50 miles across the North Bay Friday morning in a tribute to veteran Santa Rosa police detective Marylou Armer, the first California peace officer to die of complications from COVID-19.
One by one in their police cruisers, lone Santa Rosa officers set out from the department’s headquarters to begin the procession before 8 a.m., forming a southbound queue on Highway 101, their lights whirring and sirens silent.
They were bound for Solano County’s Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo Medical Center, where Armer was hospitalized when she died Tuesday.
The downsized procession came with no advance public notice, a decision made to prevent crowds from assembling and violating health orders meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus that took Armer’s life and has infected at least 8 other officers in the department.
Still, it marked a poignant moment for a department that has struggled this week with Armer’s loss and the widening hold of the pandemic inside its ranks. Friday’s tribute was meant as a public show of grief and gratitude for her 20 years of service to the city.
“It’s a little rough for some of the officers but we’re trying to limit it as much as we can,” Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro said before the procession. “It just doesn’t feel like it’s done.”
Armer, a 43-year-old American Canyon resident who joined the department in 1999 as a civilian employee and became an officer in 2008, was an investigator in the sexual assault and domestic violence unit.
She was among at least nine Santa Rosa officers to contract the coronavirus in the past month and was the first reported COVID-19 death in California among the ranks of law enforcement. Results for three other Santa Rosa Police Department employees tested for the virus came back negative, Santa Rosa spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said in a text message.
As it moved south on Highway 101, the procession swelled, including vehicles from the Santa Rosa Fire Department, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, CHP, and other local police agencies.
On social media, residents responded to a request by the department by posting photos of themselves in blue, accompanied by the hashtag #BlueForMarylou.
“She was a consummate professional and a joy to be around every day,” said CHP Commander Aristotle Wolfe, who participated in Friday’s procession and worked with Armer on an interagency auto theft task force 15 years ago, while she was a field evidence technician.
“The entire world is on edge and as soon as you put a face, or know a colleague in your profession, on something that didn’t touch you personally before, the impact hits you very hard,” Wolfe said.
Friday’s procession began after 7:30 a.m. at the Santa Rosa Police Department headquarters on Sonoma Avenue, where officers gathered and departed one per vehicle, forming an unbroken chain along Highway 101. At the still northern edge of San Pablo Bay, the procession headed east on Highway 37 past a field of brilliant yellow mustard, then up and over the hill framing the Sonoma Raceway to Kaiser’s Vallejo Medical Center. Employees, including some wearing face masks, came out to witness the moment, while officers in uniform stood watch, most separated by six feet or more.
From the hospital, the procession escorted the hearse carrying Armer’s body to the Tulocay Cemetery and Funeral Home in Napa. In the parking lot, her Santa Rosa colleagues looked as, one by one, vehicles in the caravan drove past the hearse and departed. Henry 1, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, circled overhead.
“Marylou made a difference, as a detective and as a person,” Navarro said. “She exudes the professionalism and the character that I think every person in our department carries.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said he and his wife were saddened to hear of Armer’s death.
“Detective Armer selflessly and courageously served her community and the people of California,” Newsom said Thursday in a statement. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to her family, friends, colleagues and members of the Santa Rosa community as they mourn her loss.”
The procession came the same day the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department announced its second coronavirus-related death, of Deputy David Werksmen. On Thursday, it reported the first, with the loss of 15-year Deputy Terrell Young.
“I think that if there was anybody out there that didn’t think this was serious, they need to pull their heads out of the sand and deal with this as if it was a life or death situation,” said Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, a professional association that advocates for law enforcement and oversees training standards.
Armer is survived by her husband and daughter. The family has yet to speak publicly, preferring to mourn in private, according to Santa Rosa police representatives.
A public memorial for Armer is planned for a later date. Donations to Armer’s family can be made through a Fund a Hero account on the Peace Officers Research Association of California website. Donations in her name can also be made to Verity or YWCA Sonoma County, two organizations that combat domestic and sexual violence.
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or email@example.com
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat
Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.