An early morning accident on Monday left a beloved Mesa Police Department officer dead and a community in mourning.
Officer Brandon Mendoza was struck and killed by a driver heading the wrong way on the westbound U.S. 60 ramp in Tempe at approximately 12:30 a.m. on Monday. The driver of the other vehicle, identified as 32-year-old Raul Silva-Corona, was killed during the crash, while the 32-year-old Mendoza later died from injuries related to the accident at a hospital. A report from the Department of Public Safety indicated Silva-Corona’s blood alcohol content level was three times higher than the legal limit.
Mendoza’s death ended what appeared to be a promising career in the department. He finished in the top 20 on his sergeants exam and was on track to become a sergeant within a year, said Mesa Police Department Community Partnership Coordinator Ray Villa. The day before his funeral, however, Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead promoted Mendoza to sergeant posthumously.
“He lived life to the fullest; he went out, he traveled and he went out with friends. He was not a one-dimensional guy,” Milstead said.
Mesa Police Sgt. Diana Williams knew Mendoza since their days in the police academy more than a decade ago and described him as a humble, determined and dedicated officer renowned for his adherence to ethics and teamwork. She said he was the officer who would encourage her during their running drills, as she was always the last person to finish.
Williams said she and Mendoza were part of a group that developed a strong connection during their time in the academy, and those ties were not broken even as the years passed by.
“The bonds you create, they’re not forgotten. They’re something you don’t forget,” she said.
Williams and Milstead spoke prior to Mendoza’s funeral at All Saints Catholic Church in Mesa on Friday morning that drew officers from Mesa, Gilbert, Apache Junction, Florence and many other municipalities to pay their respects. The funeral marked the end of a week of mourning that encompassed two candlelight vigils — one in front of the Mesa Police Department building on Tuesday and a second in Phoenix near Mendoza’s home the following night. Villa, who worked with Mendoza for three years, praised the former officer for his willingness to work with youth in the now defunct Mesa Police Department Explorer Post and for his connection with the community.
The connection came in the form of projects to repair Guerrero Rotary Park and the surrounding area, serving meals at the local Boys and Girls Club and helping out the homeless. Villa said Mendoza would also pursue drug dealers and gang bangers, although he didn’t define the people he arrested as criminals.
“If there was a way to straighten out their lives he found ways to make that happen,” Villa said.
It was that connection to the community that led Milstead to describe Mendoza as a modern beat cop, an officer who had a strong connection with his community and will be difficult to replace.
“We will have to find the right person to step into that role in the community,” he said.
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