Before he returned to his calling on two wheels, California Highway Patrol Officer Lucas Chellew rode – as knights of old -- nobly on four legs.
Like those knights, he stood for justice and championed the weak and vulnerable, said his friends, family and colleagues at his funeral service Saturday. Chellew died Feb. 22 after crashing during pursuit of a stolen vehicle.
Chellew had been on the South Sacramento CHP motorcycle squad for about three years before his death. But before that, he was in the Capitol Protection Section State Capitol, one of a highly elite unit of officers on horseback: among more than 7,000 CHP officers, only five at any given time are chosen for the saddle.
After graduating from the CHP Academy in 2009, Chellew began his career as a motorcycle officer in Southern California. In March 2012, he met his future wife, who taught him to ride horseback, and in October of that year he transferred to the Capitol Protection Section, where he traded his motorcycle boots for riding boots.
The Capitol Protection Section protects visitors and workers in and around the State Capitol, extending to all downtown state offices. The horses of the Mounted Patrol Unit act both as protection and ambassadors of sorts, said Sgt. Kassandra DiMaggio, who heads the unit. The large breed horses, including Belgian draft horses and Clydesdales, are chosen as much for their size as their gentle, placid natures.
Both are useful in crowd control situations, DiMaggio said, explaining that the horses are big enough to be intimidating, but appealing enough to rebuff aggression. Many people who might resort to violence toward officers
For Chellew, a man described as larger than life by friends, family and colleagues – a horse, if not larger than life, larger than most horses. Samson, who walked poignantly riderless in Chellew’s funeral procession, is a Belgian draft horse, which are among the largest of horses.
As it happened, the officer who now rides Samson was a close friend of Chellew’s – they were in the same academy graduating class. Officer Josh Cavolt, who now rides Samson, said Chellew and Samson were kindred spirits: They both had big personalities and a lot of spunk.
“They were a good match,” said Cavolt.
Cavolt was devastated by Chellew’s death – the first, and he hopes last, of his classmates to die in the line of duty.
Although Chellew had enjoyed his time at the Capitol, motorcycle patrol was his real passion, and in July 2015 he transferred to the South Sacramento office.
It was here that his relentless work ethic and feeling for those in need combined to make him a superlative officer. One night, a woman fell off an overpass, and officers searched for hours in vain to find her before finally giving up, said CHP Sgt. Sean Kent. Chellew, however, did not give up. He continued to comb the dark underpass far into the night, eventually finding her hidden by a dirt embankment, badly injured, but still alive.
Chellew almost certainly saved her life.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Kent said.