CHP motorcycle officer, Vallejo man killed in crash on I-80 in Fairfield
# Comments Kirk Griess, 46, of Vacaville, a 19-year veteran of the CHP was killed on duty Friday morning. The U.S. Marine spent 16 of those years serving Solano County. Contributed photo
In an instant, multiple lives were changed as a wayward driver on the freeway in Fairfield plowed into a California Highway Patrol officer parked on the shoulder and the Vallejo motorist he was tending to.
Both were killed.
Friends, family and local police and fire officials mourned upon hearing that the fallen officer was Kirk Griess, 46, of Vacaville, a 19-year veteran of the CHP on Friday. The U.S. Marine spent 16 of those years serving Solano County.
Prayers were also said for the Vallejo man, whose name was withheld pending further investigation.
The tragic crash occurred just after 9 a.m. as Griess, a longtime motorcycle officer, was stopped on the shoulder of westbound Interstate 80 at the Manuel Campos Road exit.
Evidence at the scene showed that he had pulled over the Vallejo motorist, 49, who was driving a Saturn sedan.
For some unknown reason, the driver of a three-quarter-ton-pickup drove across the freeway and onto the shoulder, striking Griess and the other motorist.
Both were subsequently taken to NorthBay Medical Center, where both were pronounced dead.
The truck driver was also taken to the hospital, where he is being treated for unspecified injuries.
At press time he was continuing to cooperate with investigators and had not been arrested.
For hours after the crash, members of local law enforcement and fire agencies gathered at NorthBay, paying their respects to Griess and his loved ones.
Meanwhile, the westbound freeway was severely clogged all day and into the night as the CHP’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team investigated the scene, which included vehicle parts strewn across the lanes, crushed vehicles scattered every which way and CHP units manning every corner.
The eastbound lanes also were slow, mainly due to rubberneckers.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, CHP officials shared the details of the crash.
“Today’s a tough day for the CHP, for me, for the state of California,” acknowledged Chief Ernie Sanchez.
As for CHP officers, he said, this tragedy is a reality they could face at any time and still they choose to be out on the road every day to ensure the safety of others.
“This is what they do every day,” he hammered home.
He asked that people remember to slow down and move over when you see a first responder on any roadway. Advertisement
CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley asked that the community remember the fallen Vallejo motorist as well as Griess.
He called the officer a good officer, a good man, a good person.
“We will mourn, we will miss,” he said. “But we are committed to public safety.”
Griess is survived by his wife, Keri; adult daughters, Kadi and Kaci; and son, Kole, 14.
Retired CHP spokesman Marvin “Willy” Williford was devastated by Griess’ death. They had long worked together, forming a tight personal bond beyond the professional one.
“He was a great man, great officer and a best friend,” Williford said.
Multiple friends notified him of the situation and he rushed to NorthBay.
“This is (going to be) my eighth funeral,” he said, voice cracking. “I’m about maxed out.”
The friends got together every chance they could, in between separate travels.
“The guy had a heart of gold,” Williford said. “He loved to give.”
The loss, he said, is just horrible.
“I’m gonna miss him every day.”
Vacaville police Sgt. Jason Johnson worked with Griess at the CHP from 1994-2005. They continued to connect thereafter.
“He had one of those larger than life personalities,” Johnson pointed out. “Everybody that knew him felt special.”
Griess was a man who loved his family and those he considered family.
“He died serving the community that he loved,” the sergeant advised.
The officer’s death, he continued, makes you see things in a different light.
“You certainly can’t take anything for granted,” he said, taking a steadying breath. “You savor those sweet moments in life, tell the people you love that you love them.”
Vacaville police Lt. Mark Donaldson remembered the officer fondly known as “Hollywood.”
The pair worked together with the multi-agency Solano County Avoid the 10 DUI Task Force.
Griess also rocked a big personality, shiny sunglasses and an enviable coif.
“He’d always wear that helmet,” the lieutenant said. “Most guys when you take off the helmet, your hair is all jacked up. But his hair was perfect.”
Thus, the “Hollywood” moniker.
The task force members always found something to joke about, he said, and would razz each other and share a meal before heading out to an enforcement event.
As well, Griess was very active in the community and even spent time encouraging two new Vacaville officers at a recent law enforcement motorcycle competition.
They reportedly were a bit nervous and the veteran officer took care of that.
“Kirk actually took the time to work with our guys one on one. He gave them advice, tips. That really speaks to who he was,” Donaldson said. “I truly appreciated that.”
His death, Donaldson added, hits too close to home.
“He’s the same age as me,” he said. “He’s got a wife and three kids, same as me. … My heart just breaks for his wife and kids and CHP family.”
There’s a lesson for all, as well, he said.
“Oftentimes the public view of us is just the uniform or just the badge. That’s what we wear but that’s not (all of) us,” he continued. “We’re so much more than that. We’re husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters — first.”
Stanley gave thanks to those who lent aid.
“We will be forever grateful for the support of the public, the first responders and the Good Samaritans who rendered assistance to our officer at the scene. We would also like to thank the medical personnel at NorthBay Medical Center following today’s tragic event,” he said.