Lake Forest memorializes four fallen heroes with permanent displays on baseball fields

By Lou Ponsi

Two men lost their lives while serving their communities.

Two others were killed while serving their country.

Fittingly, all four are memorialized together in Heroes Park in Lake Forest.

The plaques are displayed at each of the four baseball fields behind the backstops.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

City officials, family members and friends of the four men, along with dozens of community members, gathered at the park Sept. 9 to honor Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputies Darryn L. Robins and Bradley J. Riches, along with Army Specialist Justin W. Pollard and Army Cpl. Matthew K. S. Swanson.

Each of the park’s four ballfields have been named for one of the four fallen heroes and the names and brief descriptions of each man are inscribed in bronze plaques in the shape of home plate.

Each home plate is cemented into the ground behind the backstop of the corresponding field.

Members of the Lake Forest Police Services and OCSD Explorers stand for the National Anthem at the start of the “Fields of Heroes” dedication ceremony at Heroes Park. Lake Forest Council Member Thomas Cagley is on the left.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Robins, 30, a seven-year veteran of the OCSD, was accidentally shot during a training exercise on Christmas Day 1993.

He spent much of his career working with youngsters in elementary schools and developed programs to help keep kids out of gangs, long before gang intervention became commonplace, Undersheriff Don Barnes said.

“I think it’s a beautiful tribute,” said Robins’ mother, Mildred Fisher. “I’m really glad that Lake Forest still remembers him.”

OCSD Undersheriff Don Barnes (right, at podium) talks about the two OCSD deputies and two military personnel who the four baseball fields are named after during a dedication ceremony at Heroes Park in Lake Forest.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

At 12:52 a.m. on June 12, 1999, Riches was sitting in his patrol car at a 7-Eleven in Lake Forest when a man wielding an assault rifle fired multiple shots at him.

Riches began his law enforcement career in 1989. He became a sworn deputy in 1991 and worked in the jail system until 1998. He began patrolling Lake Forest in 1998.

Lake Forest Council Member Scott Voigts talks to Little League players before the start of the dedication ceremony at Heroes Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“I can think of no better location to honor the memories of Darryn Robins and Brad Riches,” Barnes said. “Both of them cared tremendously about this community. This is a very appropriate memorial to those who have sacrificed.”

Pollard, who grew up in Foothill Ranch, enlisted in the Army shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment based in Fort Carson, Colo., before deploying to Iraq.

OCSD Explorer Lt. Chaney Lieberman sings the National Anthem at the start of the ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

He was the driver of a Bradley Fighting vehicle and then became a gunner, and an expert in spotting IEDs.

Pollard, who was killed in 2003, was credited with saving more than 150 of his fellow soldiers.

OCSD Undersheriff Don Barnes talks about the four honorees during the dedication ceremony at Heroes Park in Lake Forest on Sept. 9.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“It is because God created men and women of tremendous courage just like Justin Pollard, that we are able to gather here today with gratitude in freedom and security,” said Congresswoman Mimi Walters, who represents California’s 45th District. “When people give their lives for this country, it is the ultimate sacrifice and the least we can do is honor them with ceremonies like the one we’re having today.”

Swanson, 20, was assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and was a member of the 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, N.Y., when he was deployed to Afghanistan.

He died on Aug. 8, 2009 from injuries sustained in a vehicle rollover.

Little League kids play at Heroes Parking in Lake Forest, where four baseball fields were named in honor of two OCSD deputies and two Army soldiers killed while serving their communities and country. Clockwise from left is Deputy Darryn L. Robins Field, Army Cpl. Matthew Swanson Field, OCSD Deputy Bradley Riches Field and Army Specialist Justin Pollard Field.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

OCSD Sgt. Jack Songer worked with Riches and was on duty the night he was murdered. Songer also is a military veteran.

“It’s great that they honor the two fallen military guys and the police officers,” Songer said. “Together, it is equally as important.”

A sign over the Little League Field at Heroes Park in Lake Forest marks the newly named Deputy Bradley J. Riches Field.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Little League players enjoy a game of baseball at the newly named Deputy Darryn L. Robins Field at Heroes Park in Lake Forest.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lake Forest Council Member Scott Voigts, front, gathers with OCSD Undersheriff Don Barnes, left, Mayor Pro Tem Leah Basile, Council Member Dwight Robinson, Council Member Thomas Cagley, Mayor Jim Gardner and OCSD Lt. Brad Valentine, Chief of Police Services City of Lake Forest, during the Fields of Heroes Dedication at Heroes Park in Lake Forest.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

OCSD Explorers Ryan Negrete and Anette Maldonado make sure the wind doesn’t blow over portraits of Army Cpl. Matthew Swanson, who died in Afghanistan in 2009. The portraits were on display during the “Fields of Heroes” dedication ceremony at Heroes Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC