A somber congregation in excess of 600 mourners gathered Tuesday morning under the vaulted cathedral ceiling of Eureka's St. Bernard's Catholic Church to remember California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas Adams, a 24-year old former Fortuna resident who was killed in a traffic collision near Piercy, just south of the Humboldt County line, a week earlier. Many Eureka streets ground to a halt to allow a procession of law enforcement vehicles up Seventh Street, passing beneath a crane-lifted American flag before arriving at the church.
Inside, the pews were filled with the square, uniformed shoulders of law enforcement officers from across the state, including a large contingent from Oakland, where Adams worked after completing the CHP academy in July 2008. He transferred to Garberville last fall, in part to be closer to his family in Fortuna. The many officers were joined by Adams' friends and relatives as well as the senior brass of the CHP, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Governor Jerry Brown, who ordered flags at the capitol to be flown at half mast.
A kilted bagpiper led a cortege of white-robed clergy down the center aisle, followed by a group of CHP officers rolling Adams' white casket. Father Gary Sumpter presided over ceremony, addressing many of his comments to Adams' parents, Bruce and Karen, in the front pew. "What we celebrate today is God's gift to us of heroes...," he said. "This is what Thomas did. He laid down his life, his youth, his enthusiasm, his hopes and his dreams for others."
CHP Commissioner Joseph Farrow described Adams as a hard worker with a good sense of humor. He recalled one specific instance during Adams' training when that comic streak surfaced: "He told his trainers he didn't need a Taser cuz he had muscles," Farrow said, prompting appreciative chuckles. CHP Lt. Adam Jager told a story from the day of the accident. Adams was excited about the fish tacos served for lunch that day but he turned down the chocolate cake, saying he'd recently started working out again, Jager recalled. After lunch, Adams stopped and helped a woman and her son on the side of the road. Choked up, Jager continued, "He loved being a CHP officer. We're gonna miss him -- the entire Garberville squad."
Born in San Francisco, Adams moved with his parents and brother to Fortuna in 2000. He graduated from Fortuna High School four years later, then went on to play football at both College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University.
Adams was working the 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. shift last Tuesday when the accident occurred. According to a CHP report, at 2:15 p.m. Adams was driving northbound on Hwy. 101 when his Ford Crown Victoria lost traction on the wet highway and veered into the oncoming fast lane. A 2004 Toyota Tundra then collided withhis passenger door. The force of the resulting impact likely caused Adams' fatal injuries, according to a subsequent investigation. The truck's driver and passenger were taken to Jerold Phelps Community Hospital in Garberville for minor injuries and later released.
At the close of the memorial service, officers presented a folded U.S. flag to Adams' parents. Father Sumpter blessed the casket with holy water and incense. With officers assembled in formation, the pallbearers carried the casket down H Street, which had been closed to traffic, and loaded it into the waiting hearse. A Coast Guard helicopter performed a flyover, and a team of riflemen, standing in front of the law offices on Seventh and H streets, fired off a 21-gun salute.