Stanislaus County deputy’s murder extinguished a bright light

Stanislaus County Deputy Dennis Wallace told students at Hart-Ransom School in 2004 that if they could raise $30,000 selling cookie dough he would shave his head.
Stanislaus County Deputy Dennis Wallace told students at Hart-Ransom School in 2004 that if they could raise $30,000 selling cookie dough he would shave his head. Modesto Bee file

Some people live in the light. They help when asked. They volunteer. They protect those who cannot protect themselves. They shine. Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace was one of those.

He was known in his department for his service, compassion and commitment. To those he served in communities where he lived, he was a bighearted, dedicated man who could be found on the soccer pitch, or refereeing football, or working with children in crisis through the D.A.R.E. anti-drug program.

With his killing on Sunday, Stanislaus County becomes another community in mourning. Wallace was the sixth member of California law enforcement killed in the line of duty in the past five weeks. Lancaster County Deputy Steve Owen was gunned down on Oct. 4 while investigating a burglary. Veteran officer Jose “Gil” Vega and his partner Lesley Zerebny were killed in Palm Springs while trying to calm a family dispute. Modoc Deputy Jack Hopkins was shot to death on Oct. 19 and Fresno County Deputy Rod Lucas was killed accidentally on Oct. 31.

Wallace was the 11th California officer killed this year. Nationwide, 121 have died in the line of duty, 56 from gunfire. Like Deputy Wallace, they had vowed to serve and protect the public. No one does such dangerous work for money alone.

Not much is known of the man arrested in the shooting of Wallace. We don’t know what David Machado was doing at the Fox Grove fishing access along the Tuolumne River in a stolen van. We don’t know why he might have shot Wallace but not the other victims of his alleged crime spree, which ended in the Tulare County town of Lindsay when, authorities say, he tried to hijack a car.

In the few minutes it took deputies to respond to Wallace’s call for backup, we don’t know what transpired; Sheriff Adam Christianson called the killing an “execution.” The crime appears, so far, to have been more vicious criminal attack than a political statement, as some recent police ambushes have been.

What we do know is how much Wallace, a 20-year veteran of the department, meant to the community in which he lived, worked and so frequently volunteered.

“He wasn’t just assigned to Hughson,” county Supervisor Vito Chiesa told The Modesto Bee, “he’s a fixture in Hughson. He was so well loved.”

Wallace’s father Randall, a CHP officer, was killed in an automobile accident following a double shift in 1978. Dennis Wallace and his brother David followed their father’s footsteps into law enforcement, Dennis joining the Sheriff’s Office and David the Modesto police.

As word spread of the shooting, the people of Hughson gathered for a Sunday night vigil. Hundreds arrived to light candles in honor of a man who was known to virtually everyone in Hughson, loved by many and respected by all. In the gathering darkness, their lights glowed brightly, like the memory of the fallen deputy himself.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee