Officer Brandon Mendoza after accepting the 2013 Officer of the Year Award from the Mesa Optimist Club. (Source: Mesa Police Department)
A flag is placed in memory of Mendoza at Rotary Park, which the officer helped rehabilitate. (Source: Sean Gates, cbs5az.com)
Mesa police Chief Frank Milstead said Brandon Mendoza was "everything that as a chief you want an officer to be." (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -
Brandon Mendoza was an icon in the Mesa Police Department who "epitomized what community policing is all about," said Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead.
Mendoza, 32, and a 13-year decorated veteran with the Mesa Police Department, was returning home after his shift early Monday when he was involved in a fiery head-on crash with a wrong-way driver on a blind curve on a freeway flyover ramp off Interstate 10 in the East Valley.
"He is everything that as a chief you want an officer to be," an emotional Milstead said after a news conference in front of the Maricopa Medical Center on Monday morning.
The Mesa Police Department plans to hold a candlelight vigil Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at police headquarters located at 130 N. Robson.
Milstead said Mendoza was approachable, empathetic and understanding and said he was the officer a citizen would want to handle a call, to sit, listen, sympathize and to understand the needs of a community and its individuals.
Mendoza was instrumental in transforming Guerrero Rotary Park at 205 W. Eighth Ave. from a facility "in much need of repair" into a park where neighbors and the community once again want to come and gather.
Milstead, in his fourth year as the Mesa chief, said Mendoza singlehandedly oversaw the renovation of the park by securing grants and garnering public support.
Milstead said Mendoza lived alone with his dogs, but had family in the Valley, including his mother, father and grandmother. Milstead said Mendoza has a brother who was on deployment to South Korea.
"We see the tragedies that happen with police officers all the time," Milstead said. "This job is absolutely incredibly dangerous, but for him to be killed on his way home from work is hard for all of us to struggle with."
Milstead said the department appreciated the support shown from the community and that they would continue to celebrate what Mendoza meant to Mesa throughout the day.
"It's so hard when your friends are killed at work. It tears me up," Milstead said.
The last officer the Mesa Police Department lost was Officer Steve Pollard in a fatal collision on the Loop 202 in 1994, Milstead said.
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