Thousands mourn SFPD officer

Hundreds of San Francisco police officers stood at attention in the morning fog outside St. Mary’s Cathedral on Wednesday as a Marine color guard led a procession of mourners into the church for the funeral of fallen officer Nick-Tomasito Birco.

A crowd of more than 2,500 police officers, other law enforcement officials and civilians filled the cathedral. Officer Birco’s mother and father, walking next to Mayor Gavin Newsom and police Chief Heather Fong, preceded a throng of Officer Birco’s cousins, nephews, siblings and friends.

Law enforcement personnel from as far away as Kern County and Reno attended the service to celebrate the life and mourn the death of the five-year San Francisco Police Department veteran killed in the line of duty.

A surfboard plastered with photographs of Officer Birco with his family and friends stood inside the door of the cathedral, a personaladdition to the formal Catholic funeral Mass.

Officer Birco was killed about 1 a.m. July 26, when a van full of robbery suspects allegedly fleeing police officers crashed into his patrol car, which flipped and slammed into a light pole. Officer Birco, 39, had been on the way to offer assistance. He survived the initial crash but died a short time later at San Francisco General Hospital.

In his five years on the force, Officer Birco, a former Marine and veteran of the first Persian Gulf war, earned 11 captain’s commendations as well as a commendation for bravery from the Police Commission for serving a search warrant on a home that contained weapons and ammunition.

“Nick set a standard for bravery that few can beat but all can remember,” Newsom said in his eulogy.

Fong echoed that sentiment, citing Officer Birco’s “overriding” commitment to his duty.

“Our citizens needed to be protected, our officers needed help. He was there to honor that commitment,” she said.

Two firetrucks hoisted an enormous American flag on closed Geary Boulevard opposite the cathedral’s entrance. The Bayview Company, where Officer Birco served, stood near the entrance and filed in after Officer Birco’s family.

Just more than two years ago, another Bayview officer, Isaac Espinoza, was shot and killed while on duty. San Francisco Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes invoked Espinoza’s memory in his eulogy.

“Isaac has a wingman, the best possible partner at his side and they patrol forever in the eternal sky,” he said.

In addition to the hundreds of San Francisco police officers in attendance, law enforcement personnel from around the Bay Area and the state were represented. Kern County Sheriff’s Department Deputies Jason Nelson and Roy Scott stood outside the cathedral in their dress uniforms after the service.

“It puts your own mortality in check. You step back and think ‘that could be me.’ That’s what draws us all into a sense of brotherhood,” Scott said.

The sadness of the funeral service was tinged with outrage at the four suspects arrested after the fatal chase, which Newsom called a “senseless and cowardly crime.”

Carl Lather, Nicholas Smith and Steven Petrilli, the suspected driver, have all been charged with murder, manslaughter and multiple robbery counts. Petrilli was on bail for separate charges of burglary and lewd acts at the time of the crash. Another suspect, Jessica Chamberlain, has not yet been charged, pending further investigation.

amartin@examiner.com

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