Died on Anti-Drug Mission : Two Killed in Copter Crash Eulogized

Times Staff Writer

Memorial services were held in Orange County on Saturday for two of the eight people killed last week when their helicopter snagged a power line and crashed in western Imperial County during a secret drug interdiction mission.

As hundreds of uniformed officers looked on, Mark Tonkin, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy, was remembered during an evening service at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove as a determined and committed deputy.

Earlier in the day, Sgt. Ramon M. Espinoza, one of three National Guardsmen who died in the crash not far from the Mexican border, was eulogized at a service in Westminster.

Tonkin, 31, was a 7-year member of the Sheriff’s Department and last year was named Deputy of the Year, one of the agency’s top honors. He began his career assigned to the County Jail but quickly rose within the department to the special investigations section, working since the first of the year on the career criminal apprehension team.


Sheriff Brad Gates, dressed in the department’s formal green uniform, told a gathering of more than 800 people that Tonkin died “a warrior.” His death, Gates said, should give officers everywhere “a passionate resolve to not waver in our mission to eliminate drugs.”

A ‘Glowing Example’

Msgr. John Sammon, the Sheriff’s Department chaplain, said Tonkin’s family “should be proud that he set a glowing example for those who wear the badge.”

As Sammon spoke, Tonkin’s wife, Mariann, and parents, Jim and Gloria Tonkin, sat motionless in the front row of the mammoth cathedral. On the each end of the altar were two framed photographs of Tonkin, one of him in his dress uniform.


As one deputy sang the hymn “Amazing Grace,” several deputies near the front of the church wept openly.

Speaking to the uniformed officers in the church, many of them Orange County sheriff’s deputies, Gates said: “In our hearts we all know we’re going to die. In our hearts we all know the risk. In our hearts we know the grief of a fallen officer in the war on drugs.”

Tonkin, who lived in Chino, was one of five deputies assigned to Operation Border Ranger who died when the National Guard helicopter hit a high wire and crashed into a desert hillside Monday night.

Although specifics of the operation have not been disclosed, officials have said its purpose is the apprehension of drug dealers.

Vic Montez, a roommate of Tonkin’s and later the best man at his wedding, told those at the church that Tonkin gave “110% to his friends, family and career” and possessed a rare blend of “determination and commitment to life.”

Before the service, as a brisk breeze swept across a courtyard outside the church, Tonkin’s casket was wheeled to the sanctuary past 600 uniformed officers, who stood at attention.

Department Was a Family

“Mark would have been very proud and happy that so many fellow officers came to pay their respects,” said Bob Morrison, a friend who watched the procession. “He believed that the Sheriff’s Department was a family, and this is a time when families should gather to find strength to go on.”


In Westminster, Espinoza was remembered in a similar service at Westminster Memorial Park. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn, and four daughters, ages 18 to 22, and three grandchildren.

He joined the National Guard full time 6 years ago and was assigned to the Los Alamitos base.