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Son of Park Rapids couple killed in highway crash

Officer Kirk A. Griess

A California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer fatally struck by a vehicle last week was the son of Sheldon and Helen Griess of Park Rapids.

Solano, Calif.-based motorcycle officer Kirk Griess, 46, of Vacaville, Calif. was struck and killed by a pickup truck during a traffic stop Aug. 10 on I-80 in Fairfield, Calif., 47 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Also killed was the driver of the SUV Griess had pulled over, identified as Jaime Bueza Manuel, 49, of Vallejo, Calif., a national of the Philippines.

Griess was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who had served with the CHP for 19 years. He is survived by his wife, Keri, and children Kadi (25), Kaci (21) and Kole (14).

Born in Robbinsdale, Kirk Griess grew up in Detroit Lakes and attended high school in Wahpeton, N.D. His parents later moved to Park Rapids. Helen Griess told the Enterprise Kirk was planning to retire in five years and considered moving to the area.

Also among the survivors are Kirk's youngest sister, Kaye, and her husband, Steven Soderberg of Park Rapids.

A funeral with full military honors was held Friday, Aug. 17 in California. A memorial service is also tentatively scheduled for Sept. 22 at Peace Lutheran Church in Nevis.

Helen said that her son's "whole neighborhood went blue" at the news of his death.

"I know 90 percent of my community knows, and I feel it," she said. "Believe me, I feel it. Thank you is all I can say at this time."

Helen also lost a son-in-law, Robert Krensing, nine years ago. "There's that hole," she said, pointing to her heart. "It got bigger, because children are never supposed to go before you."

Helen confirmed that a memorial trust fund has been created in Griess's name to benefit his wife and children. Donations can be made online at or by mailing a check payable to the fund to Officer Kirk Griess Memorial Fund, CAHP Credit Union, P.O. Box 276507, Sacramento, CA 95827-6507.

Distracted driver

Sean Matthew Walker, 36, of Rocklin, Calif., has been identified as the driver of the pickup that killed Griess and Manuel. According to news reports, Walker was treated at a hospital for his injuries and was released later the same day.

Walker was subsequently arrested on suspicion of two counts of felony vehicular manslaughter and one count of reckless driving causing fatal injuries.

"We have evidence that (Walker) was distracted by his phone at the time of the collision," said Capt. Mark Headrick, commander of the CHP's Solano office, in an Aug. 15 press conference.

"This is a preventable collision, something that could have been stopped," said Headrick. "We want the message to be sent that your actions have consequences, that answering a phone or sending or answering a text can result in the tragic consequences that we witnessed this last week, and that lives can be unalterably changed because of these actions. We want to encourage people to be safe, to drive safe, and to consider that there are other people on the roadways, and to drive safely for them."

During the same press conference, Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said her office had filed charges of two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter against Walker, because "this wasn't simple, ordinary negligence; this was gross negligence."

Abrams said evidence showed both that Walker was talking on his cell phone before the accident and that he was driving "well over the speed limit."

A single count of gross vehicular manslaughter is punishable by up to six years in prison, Abrams said, while the maximum penalty for both counts together is seven years and four months under California law.