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Fallen Heroes Details

In Memory Of
Mark Tonkin
Orange County Sheriffs Department, CA
End of watch: 1988-10-24
Aircraft: Bell UH1
Five sheriff's deputies from Southern California and three National Guardsmen were killed when the helicopter they were flying in a joint drug interdiction mission snagged on a power line and exploded into a hillside in western Imperial County.

The accident occurred Monday, Oct. 24, about 9:30 p.m., approximately 63 miles east of San Diego on what was described as a training flight on the first night of an unpublicized anti-drug surveillance program called Operation Border Ranger. The National Guard UH-1H Huey helicopter crashed when it tried to make a pass through an isolated canyon to close in on a parked car thought to belong to drug smugglers, a National Guard spokesman stated.

Killed in the crash were five deputies from a consortium of six Southern California sheriff's departments that sponsored Operation Border Ranger, an anti-drug smuggling program that was quietly organized earlier this year. The three dead guardsmen were stationed with the 140th Aviation Unit at the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center in Orange County.

The dead deputies were identified as Mark Steven Tonkin, 31, Chino, a seven-year member of the Orange County Sheriff's Department; James D. McSweeney, 43, of Huntington Beach, and Roy A. Chester, 41, of La Verne, both 12-year Los Angeles County Sheriff's veterans; Sgt. Richard G. Romero, 39, El Centro, a 14-year veteran in Imperial County; and Investigator Michael David Davis, 34, Indio, a nine-year veteran Riverside County deputy. San Diego and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Departments, the other participants in the program, had no one on board.

The deputies who died were all experienced narcotics officers.

Deputy Tonkin joined the department on August 21, 1981. He was initially assigned to the Main Jail upon completing basic training. He worked a short time as a court bailiff and then assigned to North Patrol. Deputy Tonkin was assigned to the Career Criminal Apprehension Team in January of 1988. Deputy Tonkin was survived by his wife, Mary Ann, and parents, James and Gloria Tonkin, of Whittier.

Thoughts and Memories of Mark Tonkin

Great friend,great guy and great cop. One of the five best and certainly one of the bravest I ever worked with; and I worked with many over the years. Other than Mark, the bravest man I ever worked with was Sgt.Bob Bolong (Deputy at the time).

I witnessed Bob do the bravest thing I have ever seen in Law Enforcement. Unbelievable courage. Bob paid a hefty price for that bravery. I have not ever forgotten what I saw. It was like something out a movie scene, hand to hand, like hitting omaha beach. Scary. Yet there was brave Bob, unhesitatingly right up front, not to get the glory, but to protect his buddies and do his duty. What a hero.

Bob was also one of the most passionate and dedicated cops in the country, but also underneath he was a sweet and honest man, halarious too. The only thing Bob loved more than being a cop was his daughter. What a great man and dad. I remember chuckling seeing Bob, the "man's man," wearing his powder puff blue girls softball shirt at the ball field when he was out there coaching his daughter who was an outstanding athelete. I yelled from behind the backstop, "I don't believe it, Bob Bolong wearing powder puff blue! That must be a sign of the apocolypse!" He grinned and chuckled back, "Yeah, they were all out of pink!"

That was only one of many times I saw just him and his sweet daughter on the field together, many times just those two,until the sun set. It was beautiful.

I had some hard times later at the department. Ther was only one man who didn't care what anybody thought and who stood by my side, only one. It was Bob. When others were hesitant to be around me because they feared a supervisor might see them in my company, old Bob was the opposite. His attitude and demeanor toward me didn't change a bit, Bob wasn't like that. He'd yell out at the top of his lungs across the lot, "There's the best cop I ever worked with!"

Bob was the only one out of hundreds of fellow officers and friends to do that for me, ol' Bob wanted to set things right for me. What a guy. Believe it or not, at the Sheriff's Department at the time, that was also a very brave thing to do. Sounds strange, but those who were around know what I am talking about. Bob was the bravest man I have ever knew. I miss him dearly.

If you didn't know Mark, you might think he was a no-nonsense kind of guy. Kind of had a personality like one of the younger modern day news anchors, professional, well spoken and unbelievably intelligent. Responsible too as was Bob. But when it was time to have a good time, I wouldn't pick anybody other than Mark to be my partner. Not only funny, but lemme tell ya, old Mark could throw them back with the best of them, and I have bent my elbow with the best. Horrible at darts though.

I think the times and places Mark and I worked together were the most dangerous and insane that any could ever be or have been before or since then at the O.C. Sheriff. I don't think anyone will disagree with that. But we were so young and loved what we did. We were all so full of life. Mark will remain forever young in my mind. Bob too.

When my days are over, I think I will know where to look to find you guys up there, if I make the cut, which is iffy. First thing I'll asked Saint Peter is, "Hey Pete, you guys got a TGIF Friday's bar around this place?"

See you two there.
You came to patrol with the dewey-eyed innocence we all began with.You ran hard to the end. Why an early end for such a loyal and good soul, we will never know. Your memory will not end.
Mike (former partner)
Mark was the type of person who should have been allowed a long life, of which he would have contributed much good. Those of us who were fortunate to have shared life with Mark are grateful for that opportunity. As a cop,Mark was exceptional. As a man, he was a good friend and challenged each of us to do better and to do more. R.W., Dom, Carl, Steve, Mike, Paul and many others cherish our friendship with Mark and we will always remember him as that young, boyish and dedicated cop.

For those of you who fly and face that challenge everyday I feel it is important for you to know that what Mark volunteered to do went against his own sense of comfort. In fact, Mark, given any other opportunity, would have passed on that night's mission. But Mark pushed aside his own uneasiness and accepted the risk. Mark did so because he was that type of cop; one with a true sense of duty first.
Brian Heaney


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