The man behind the highway: Fallen Officer Bill Bean Jr.

By: Nancy Hagman, Special to the Colfax Record
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Street names are one thing for honoring a person?s notable contributions to society. When state and federal transportation entities started organizing highways, a numbering system was deemed most logical. Thus, in Colfax, we have Highway 174 to Grass Valley and Interstate 80 to, well, everywhere. More recently, these bureaucracies have taken to naming at least sections of these thruways after persons deserving of commemoration. Bill Bean Jr. has been memorialized in this way and just as you head out on Hwy. 174, you see a large sign to this effect. A native of Colfax, this young man lost his life in the line of duty as a police officer in Sacramento. Raised in Colfax, the son of William Bean Sr. and Kim Bean Toms, William C. Bean, Jr. was born April 8, 1970. In 1989, Bean graduated from Colfax High School where he lettered in three varsity sports and later coached football. He went to West Point but did not complete due to a medical condition. Upon returning home, he attended the University of California, Davis for one year and played football for the Aggies. Bean joined the Placer County Sheriff's Department in May 1991 and stayed until April 1995, when he joined the Sacramento Police Department. Along with being a police officer, he was a full-time student at Sierra College and played on the football squad for the Wolverines, earning All-Bay Valley Conference honors. He was a starter at free safety for the police team in the Pig Bowl for four consecutive appearances before his premature death. It was on the night of Feb. 9, 1999 that bean was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Sacramento. He was trying to talk to a "wanted subject" when he was gunned down. He was flown the to U.C. Davis Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Deputy Chief Albert Najera said that Bean had been wearing "body armor" but a bullet entered through an armhole and hit him behind his left shoulder. The incident began when Bean and his partner, Officer David Hogge, spotted a man they were looking for driving alone. They signaled the driver to pull over. The driver did pull over briefly but then drove off. He continued along at about 25 mph with the police car, being driven by Hogge, close behind. Larry Gibbs, deputy chief of investigations, stated that a short time later, the driver pulled over for a second time. Hogge stopped the police cruiser, and Bean got out of the passenger side and walked toward the car. At that point, the driver started firing and Bean was hit, Gibbs reported. Hogge returned fire and tried to chase the suspect on foot. More than five hours after the shooting, police arrested Dundell Wright, 35, on suspicion of homicide. He was a parolee facing a return trip to prison because of a parole violation. Police found Wright under an air-conditioning unit in the backyard of a house near the incident. A 9 mm pistol believed to be the weapon used in the shooting was found nearby. In 2003, Wright was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Approximately 5,000 fellow officers, friends and state and local dignitaries crowded into the Trinity Life Center on Feb. 16, for Bean's funeral service. Planned as a two-hour ceremony, it lasted over three hours. Then-Governor Gray Davis called Bean "a genuine American hero," and Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr. offered his condolences as they presented flags to Bean's parents at the service. Bean is remembered for many positive attributes. He was considered an eager and determined young man who doggedly pursued his goals, eventually winning over those around him. He was also described as very energetic and an outstanding person. One coach said he was an inspiration to a lot of the players and that he didn't know anybody who had a bigger heart. He always had a smile, and always had a positive attitude and loved kids. Bean was engaged to be married at the time of the tragedy. To this day, his mother, Kim Toms, says, "Billy didn't die in vain.? She concluded "my son . . . I'm awfully proud, of course: Going into the police department and serving America ? what more could you ask?"