A makeshift memorial with flowers and candles now marks the spot where 38-year-old Modesto Police Sergeant Michael Pershall died.
The off-duty Modesto police sergeant was killed while riding his bicycle Tuesday night, and investigators suspect the driver responsible for hitting him was under the influence at the time of the crash.
The officer was riding his bike along Merle Avenue, west of Fine Ave. along the north curb edge, police said, when a driver traveling westbound along Merle approached him from behind.
Dennis Lemons lives across the street from the accident scene and heard it happen.
“[There was] a fire hydrant here," Lemmons explained. "The officer [was] laying here riding his bicycle. And I understand he got a promotion, too."
Investigators believe the driver, later identified as Matthew Gibbs, 32, of Modesto, struck the officer’s bicycle, which caused the man to be ejected off the bike.
Gibbs then drove his car up onto the curb, struck a fire hydrant and came to a rest along the north shoulder of Merle Ave, according to police.
Gibbs had two previous DUI charges filed against him in Stanislaus County, but they were dismissed in 2014.
“It’s been tough for everybody. But I’ll tell you what. We get through it because the community is so great for us in this county and we’re truly lucky to have the support staff that we have in this community," said Officer Tom Olsen of the Modesto CHP office.
Pershall served four years as a Tuolumne County Sheriffs deputy before joining the Modesto Police Department in 2012. He was a canine handler, field training officer and negotiator for Modesto’s Critical Incident Team.
Pershall also served as an advisor for the Police Explorer Program, and was promoted to sergeant just two weeks ago.
“It was a somber feeling last night to sit there and just observe another tragedy in our community," said CHP Officer Olsen. "But we’ll get through it."
Sergeant Pershall is survived by a wife and two sons.
Gibbs remains in the Stanislaus County Jail on one count of murder and two counts of DUI causing bodily injury.