By Stacey Doud
A Grand Prairie police officer, AJ Castaneda, age 38, was killed around 10:30am on June 7 while checking radar speeds on the shoulder of the George Bush Turnpike. A 17-year-old driver hit the officer’s vehicle and the officer fell off of the overpass onto the lower highway, about 20 feet below. He died at an Arlington hospital about 30 minutes later.
The person who came upon the accident and reported it was an officer from another city. He had the brains to get into Castaneda’s patrol car and radio directly to Castaneda’s agency in Grand Prairie to let them know what was going on.
I’ve been a law enforcement supporter for many years now, simply because I know I could not to that job, so I admire those that can.
In today’s climate, I often get criticized for supporting the cops; however, I am not a blind follower. I realize that there are bad apples in the policing field, just as in any area of employment. I feel shame when I hear about a cop abusing his or her privileges as peacekeepers.
That being said, I attended a candlelight vigil for Castaneda on June 9, which was held in front of Grand Prairie’s Public Safety Building.
I had never met Castaneda, but when something tragic like this happens, I like to lend my support, even if it’s providing another warm body at an event.
I got there a bit early and parked. As I walked up to the gathering spot, I was overwhelmed with the crowd. Literally hundreds of people, young and old, showed up to pay respects to this officer that I knew nothing about.
As I listened to the speakers, I came to understand that Castaneda was an exceptional officer. He raised money to provide meals every Thursday to the youth of an impoverished neighborhood in Grand Prairie. He saved the life of a choking baby. He earned medals and awards too countless to list.
The question everyone asks themselves when a good person dies popped into my head: Why him? Why him and not the cop that sits in the back of a parking lot all day or night watching movies? But does anyone’s life count “more” than another’s?
The wind was blowing pretty hard that night, and the candles wouldn’t stay lit. The chief suggested that folks turn on the flashlights on their phones instead. What resulted was a beautiful sea of light to honor this exceptional officer.
I cried and cried – not because I knew Castaneda – but because yet another person who had compassion and went above-and-beyond had been taken way too soon. Those traits are hard to find these days.
Remember when customer service existed everywhere? Remember when employees cared about your experiences in their stores? Remember when people would stop to help other folks in distress?
Those days are long gone, and so to lose someone who loved his job, had compassion for his fellow human beings and went farther than necessary to give a helping hand to people he didn’t even know was just another blow to the things we used to cherish, and want to cherish again.
RIP AJ Castaneda. End of Watch: June 7, 2019
They’ll take it from here, brother.