Ken Sandy, Danville's first and longest-serving police chief and a Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputy from 1965 until his retirement in 1992, died Dec. 24 in Walnut Creek from complications of COVID-19. He was 83.
As a sheriff's deputy, Sandy was directly involved with several major incidents in Contra Costa County, including the plunge of a school bus from Yuba City off of the Interstate 680/Marina Vista off-ramp in Martinez in May 1976 that killed 28 students and an adult adviser (the second-worst bus disaster in U.S. history), and the March 1969 bombing of a Shell Oil fuel pipeline crossing San Leandro Creek near the unincorporated community of Canyon, southwest of Moraga.
Former Contra Costa County administrator Phil Batchelor described Sandy as caring, competent, willing to sit down with people having problems or disagreements.
"He brought people together, respecting both sides, that was Ken," Batchelor said last week. "People gravitated to him; they liked him, trusted him." Had Sandy or someone like him been the police chief in some of the American cities that experienced social unrest in 2020, helping bring disparate viewpoints together, Batchelor believes, there would have been fewer riots and less overall discord.
Sandy, a Danville resident, was among the law enforcement officers who responded to Canyon on March 17, 1969, for what Batchelor described as "reports of trouble" there. He and other officers were there when a Shell Oil fuel pipeline running between the Martinez refinery and Oakland International Airport was blown up by a bomb. The late-night explosion killed one Shell worker, injured several other people and leveled Canyon's only store.
Those responsible for the bombing were never caught, but many suspected members of the Weathermen, also known as the Weather Underground, a radical left militant organization active at the time, for the blast at the only spot where the 10-inch pipeline was exposed above ground. Some also believed someone with inside knowledge of when shipments were made over the pipeline, and of where the pipeline was exposed, was also involved.
About seven years later, Sandy, according to Batchelor, was the first law enforcement officer on the scene of a horrific school bus crash. A Yuba City school bus headed to Miramonte High School in Orinda for a choir event was making a stop in Martinez when the bus' brakes failed -- the bus plunged off the elevated off-ramp and landed on its roof. Of 53 people on board, 29 were killed.
"(Sandy) couldn't understand what he was seeing ... when he radioed for help, he indicated they needed all the medical personnel they could get," said Batchelor, adding that the trauma affected Sandy profoundly. "They couldn't believe the number of people who were killed, all those kids."
Sandy was named the town of Danville's first police chief upon that town's incorporation in July 1982. As the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office has provided police services to that town since its incorporation, Sandy remained with the sheriff's office during his tenure there, which ended with his retirement as a captain in 1992.
Sandy also served as a board member with the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, stepping down in 2009. Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville said she got to know Sandy both from his time on the fire board and from attending the same church as Ken and his wife, Dorothy, did.
"We had many great conversations about public safety, and about his genuine concern for the community," Andersen said in an email.
Sandy leaves his wife, Dorothy -- hospitalized herself as of Thursday battling COVID-19 -- as well as a daughter, Reagan Hall, and stepchildren Jennifer Maher, Kim Prosser and Ron Maher.
Visitation will be held from 5-8 p.m. next Thursday (Jan. 7) at the Oak Park Hills Chapel, 3111 N. Main St. in Walnut Creek.