On July 13, 2005, Sheriff's helicopter STAR VI, crashed on the north side of Lake Natoma, near the Hazel Avenue Bridge. The crew, which was comprised of the Pilot, Joe Kievernagel and Tactical Flight Officer (TFO), Kevin Blount, lost their lives in the crash and the third passenger TFO prospect, Erik Henrikson, was severely injured. The cause of this crash was later determined to be a catastrophic engine failure. While the loss of these lives and the wounds to Erik has forever scared the department and the community, the members of the Air Operations Bureau felt the need to build a monument where people could go to reflect on the positive contributions of these heroic men.
With a carefully selected committee in place, the members began with this mission;
Our original goal was to dedicate this memorial on the anniversary of the crash, as close to the actual site as possible. However, during a site survey, we determined the actual crash occurred in a riparian area, which was not appropriate or readily accessible.
This led us to the ultimate site, which is in the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area at Lake Natoma. This area is a multi-use facility along the American River Parkway, located on the south shores of Lake Natoma, near the CSUS Aquatic Center.
Once we identified the location, the committee started on the design. To assist in the design process, we reached out to one of the region's most recognized artists, known for his award winning bronze sculptures, Tom Bennett of Bennett Sculptures. His task was to develop an abstract figure that embraced the freedom of flight, while encompassing symbolic features unique to STAR VI. Tom took to the task immediately and came back with a design that needed no revision.
Consistent with the committee's requests, Tom incorporated a circular feature to represent the enclosed tail rotor of the Sheriff's Eurocopter helicopter. Tom not only accommodated this request, but also included ironic, albeit unintentional features that remind us of the men aboard STAR VI. For instance, the fins encircling the middle section from the number "6". These same fins number three, representing the number of crew aboard STAR VI on the final flight. The result is a bronze sculpture, titled by the committee, "Hero's in the Sky", coined from a statement made by then Sheriff Lou Blanas during a press conference.
With the preliminary design complete, the committee set out to secure the location, raise the necessary funds and build the final monument. As with any project of this size, we faced many challenges, not the least of which was to negotiate through the "red tape" of state government to place the memorial in a state park. With full cooperation from the State Park system, we secured an unprecedented agreement to place the monument in the park, directly across from the crash site.
On the heels of this success, members of the committee secured funding through generous donations of time, materials and money from members of the community and department. The result was a project on time and under budget.
On July 13, 2006, on the anniversary of the crash, hundreds gathered at the memorial site with the sound of music in the background and the smell of barbecue in the air when we unveiled and dedicated the fruits of our labor. The tribute to the men aboard STAR VI will forever stand as a reminder for their sacrifice.
Other interesting facts about the memorial
The sculpture, titled "Hero's in the Sky" is constructed of bronze with an antique patina finish. The base is made of hand poured concrete.
The design is an original Bennett Sculptures design, made exclusively for the STAR VI memorial.
The memorial sculpture is located in the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, at Lake Natoma. It sits in a natural area at the east end of the parking lot, on the south shores.
The landscape surrounding the monument was created to allow 360 degree access to the memorial. The concrete path that surrounds the memorial forms the number "6" when viewed from above in either direction. This allows the surviving and future Air Operations members and all aviation personnel to look down upon the memorial in remembrance.
Without the generous contributions from the community and department members, the STAR VI memorial would not have been possible.
Chief Deputy James E. Lewis (Commander of the Bureau at the time of the STAR VI crash)
To design, construct and dedicate a memorial that appropriately honors the memories of Joe, Kevin and the suffering of Erik, while maintaining the professional standards of the Sheriff's Department, the emotional welfare of the families and the interests of the community.