A ‘priceless’ gift for widow of CHP officer who lost everything in wildfire
October’s firestorm didn’t just claim Judy Morris’ Santa Rosa home – the inferno stole many of the mementos of her “fairytale marriage” to her late husband, along with relics from his 29-year career with the California Highway Patrol.
Morris, 69, was awakened in her Fountaingrove home by shouted warnings from a passer-by in the early hours of Oct. 9. She fled the Cross Creek Road house, carrying her 2-pound Yorkshire Terrier, Chevy, her purse and a small bag of dog food.
Left behind were some of her most valued possessions, including the ashes of Terry Morris, her husband of 38 years, his CHP badge and a cache of his Army and law enforcement memorabilia.
Dealing with the aftermath of the loss has been devastating, but Thursday, Morris and some of her adult children got a keepsake back. In an emotional ceremony at the CHP’s Rohnert Park office, Sgt. Ryan Snider, a longtime friend, presented the family with a replica badge he’d commissioned from a Bay Area jeweler, photos of Terry Morris from the agency’s archives, a replacement retirement plaque, a memento case and an identification card.
“This is priceless,” Judy Morris said. “I don’t think any of you can realize what I’ve lost and what’s important. This is really about the only thing that’s important.”
Only a handful of items were ever found in the home’s rubble - diamonds from Judy Morris’ wedding ring and the state emblem from the center of her husband’s badge. A team of archaeologists and cadaver dogs searched the ruins for Terry’s ashes, which were located and are now kept in an urn created by a Santa Rosa potter.
Terry Morris, 67, died four years ago after a six-month battle with bile duct cancer. An Army veteran who served in the Vietnam war, he entered the CHP academy in 1971, moving to posts throughout the state before retiring from the Santa Rosa area division as a sergeant on July 4, 2000, his wife said. He was part of specialized accident investigation team used after large-scale incidents. The couple went on to run an accident-reconstruction consulting business for 14 years, Judy Morris said.
“He lived and breathed law enforcement,” said the couple’s daughter, McKenzie Crownover, 37. “The CHP was his life.”
Receiving the exact replica of his badge - No. 7809 - honored his memory and the pride he took in his career, she said.
“He was a very quietly brilliant man. I think he would be so honored,” said Morris, who sold her property and is living with friends as she searches for a new Sonoma County home.
Snider said he was compelled to help after talking about Judy Morris’ loss with her son, Marin County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Heilman.
“It felt kind of crushing for someone to lose pictures and every memory of everything through a lifetime of memories with the love of her life,” said Snider, who now has Terry Morris’ former desk at the Rohnert Park CHP office.
Compiling the gift required much time and collaboration, but it was a labor of love, Snider said.
“This is why a lot of us really enjoy our jobs and our profession, is the ability to help other people,” he said. “You can only get that great of a feeling from helping someone else and to be able to do it for people is very rewarding.”
Capt. Michael Palacio, who worked with Terry Morris on several investigations, said the badge is an embodiment of his service.
“It doesn’t just represent a piece of metal, it represents his life and all the good he did for the community and finding justice for all cases,” he said.
For Judy Morris, the gift is a step on her path to healing.
“This makes my life whole,” she said.