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CHP officer's grave marker is stolen

The plaque commemorating Officer John Pedro, who died in 2002, vanishes from a Santa Cruz cemetery. It's the fourth time a memorial to him has been attacked.

October 12, 2012|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

A granite slab marking the grave of a California Highway Patrol officer has disappeared from a Santa Cruz cemetery, the fourth attack on his memorials in the 10 years since he died in the line of duty.

The plaque commemorating Officer John Pedro went missing from Oakwood Memorial Park over the weekend, authorities said. A solar light illuminating his grave also was stolen, but there was no damage elsewhere.

"To have his grave desecrated like this is beyond belief," said CHP Officer Rich Valdez, a colleague of Pedro's at the agency's office in Aptos. "We've run through this over and over, wondering who it can be."

Pedro died June 3, 2002 when his patrol car hit a tree as he was pursuing a speeder down a California 1 offramp near Santa Cruz.

In 2005, the state honored him with two signs on the highway. Within months, one of them was cut down and the other was defaced, with the officer's last name cut out of it. Not long afterward, someone chopped down a 6-foot-tall redwood cross that was erected at the site of his death.

Law enforcement officials said they have not identified any suspects. Pedro was not associated with high-profile cases, Valdez said, and the Watsonville, Calif., native had no known enemies.

Etched with a likeness of Pedro's badge, the grave marker weighed 150 to 200 pounds and cost about $800. The theft is under investigation by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department.

"It's extremely disrespectful and disgusting that someone would continue to deface his memorials," said deputy April Skalland, a spokeswoman for the department. "It's something that people can't understand."

Pedro, 36, was married to a fellow CHP officer; the couple had a daughter, Sara, who is now 12. Pedro's widow, Colleen Gilmartin, has since retired from the CHP. She is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

"I don't want this to happen again," said Gilmartin, who left the CHP in 2007. "I don't think I can go through it anymore. There have got to be some consequences."

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