Bridge to Peace
Fallen SPD officer Tara O’Sullivan memorialized by H Street span
By Cecily Hastings
Sacramento Police Officer Tara O’Sullivan was gunned down during a domestic disturbance call in June 2019. Her death sent the region into mourning. I’ll never forget waving our American flag on the Business 80 overpass as her funeral procession slowly moved from Rocklin to Elk Grove.
The idea for a beautiful tribute to Tara began over cups of coffee between friends earlier this year.
“Our coffee group was deeply saddened when Sacramento Police Officer Tara O’Sullivan was killed,” says Joe Pane, an SPD officer from 1979 to 2007. “I started looking into her story, and what we could do to recognize this amazing young woman who met a tragic end. And then, given her strong ties to East Sac, we thought why not the H Street Bridge over the American River by Sac State?”
Tara O’Sullivan was born and raised in Pleasant Hill. She grew up wanting to be a cop, and became an Explorer Scout with Pleasant Hill police while in high school.
“SPD Chief Daniel Hahn told me that she moved to Sac State to be a cop, majoring in child development because she felt like that would help her in her profession,” Pane says.
“When she moved to Sacramento, she rented a Midtown apartment I owned,” says Ronnie Pane, Joe’s cousin, who retired as chief sergeant at arms for the California Assembly after 41 years. Both cousins, and Joe’s brother, Josh Pane—who served on the City Council from 1989 to 1994—live in East Sacramento and proudly support law enforcement.
The three men put together an email to friends and contacts seeking support for the O’Sullivan memorial. The response was overwhelming. “When emails were too numerous for my wife Sue to manage, we posted a Change.org online petition,” Joe says.
Nearly 5,000 supporters joined the effort. Their plan went like this: They met with Chief Hahn, the Sacramento Police Officers Association, City Councilmember Jeff Harris, Sac State President Robert Nelsen, the rest of the City Council, the city’s public works department, and numerous business and neighborhood groups, including those from River Park and Meadowview.
Tara was the first female graduate of an inaugural Sac State class called Law Enforcement Candidate Scholars’ Program, which prepares leaders for law enforcement. The director is Dr. Shelby Moffatt, a former SPD officer who became a Sac State professor.
Tara was killed in the North Sac neighborhood of Redwood Park. On that tragic day, there were two houses on Redwood Street that involved previous domestic violence calls. Officers told the female victim that if she would get her possessions together, they would come back to keep the peace while she moved out.
“When I was an officer, I worried about two things every day—that I would be in an auto accident or, worse case, that I’d be shot,” Joe Pane says. “The auto accident and the sniper never left my mind, or that of my family, for 28 years.”
When Tara and her training officer arrived at the Redwood Street location, they knew a man there might have access to guns. But they were unsure of his location. They announced they were there only to help remove some items from the house.
As they entered the house, the man opened fire with a rifle. Tara was hit and mortally wounded. The shooter kept firing and prevented officers from reaching Tara for the 45 minutes it took her to die. All while he disgustingly taunted and cursed the fallen officer.
As a result of the Panes’ efforts, the City Council unanimously approved the bridge dedication May 26.
“Chief Hahn sent me the following text the day after it passed,” Joe says, sharing the text: “Thanks so much for your support on the bridge proposal approved by Council last night—the Tara O’Sullivan Memorial Bridge. Thank you, Joe, and I appreciate you and your brother. That means a lot to us as our city should understand what Tara and her family sacrificed for all of us, and your efforts will help make sure we will never forget. Sadly, we were at preliminary hearing for the shooter right now, so God help us all.”
The next steps are to design and install a memorial sign for the bridge.
“Friends of East Sacramento—where I serve as a facility manager for our McKinley Park facilities—stepped up immediately to offer their financial support for the sign,” Joe says. “The nonprofit is going to work with other funding partners, including the SPOA, who want to help with the costs of the dedication.”
“The dedication signage will be visible from both sides of the bridge. We’re just starting to work on the design,” Josh says.
Supporters hope the H Street span can also be known as “The Bridge to Peace.” This reflects the sacrifice Tara O’Sullivan made for her family, her fellow officers and our community while doing her best to help keep the peace on that tragic day in June 2019.
Cecily Hastings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.