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Lodi native Chris Wagner awarded for shooting violent suspect, saving a life

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Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008 10:00 pm

With three shots, Jan. 29 became a date Chris Wagner is likely never going to forget.

In an instant, Wagner turned from a man doing his job into a hero saving a life.

The governor would ultimately honor him for shooting a suspect who was trying to stab and run over a fellow investigator.

Born and raised in Lodi, Wagner is the youngest son of Bud and Rosie Wagner. He grew up with his two older brothers, playing the games kids play, like cops and robbers. At the time, he never considered going into law enforcement when he grew up.

Wagner played baseball for most of his time at Tokay High School, and still plays the beloved game in winter and summer leagues.

Like any other teenager, he had scrapes with the law that came in the form of speeding tickets, but he remained a good kid.

"He was always focused. He's the type that if he saw something that he would like to purchase, he'd work hard and save his money and buy it," Rosie Wagner said.

Wagner was studious, doing well in school. His parents thought he would end up with a career in engineering.

It was a semester at San Joaquin Delta College that changed his path. Wagner took a criminology class and he was hooked.

A smart move

Visiting a friend who lived in Fresno and went to California State University, Fresno, Wagner heard that they had a well-reviewed criminology program. He decided to relocate and take the course.

During his three-and-a-half years at school, Wagner interned with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department, working in the jail and the courthouse, sometimes as a bailiff.

For a brief time, Wagner had an internship with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and was instantly drawn to the investigative aspect of the job. After graduating college and the police academy at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, he was hired by the ABC in San Diego, spending two-and-a-half years in the position.

It was then that the Department of Motor Vehicles in Fresno hired Wagner to be a part of their investigative branch, which looks into crimes involving identity theft, automobile fraud and anything to do with the automotive industry.

The job was a perfect fit. In 2006, Wagner was recognized as the "Fresno Investigator of the Year."

"He's one of our top investigators. He works every type of case for us, and he brings them all to good closure," said Tom Wilson, Wagner's boss and the head of the Fresno DMV investigative unit.

An infamous day

A calm breeze brushed the chilly city of Fresno that January day as Wagner and his partner Corben Whitney patrolled the streets.

Part of "Operation: Bulldog" - a joint investigation between the DMV and the California Highway Patrol to recover stolen vehicles - the duo spotted a white van that had been on the list of swiped autos, according to a press conference held by Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

The driver of the van, Gilbert Jiminez, a suspected gang member, was also wanted on a parole violation, domestic abuse charges and, of course, vehicle theft.

As the partners pulled the van over, Wagner approached the passenger side of the vehicle while Whitney walked up to the driver's side, identifying themselves as officers.

The passenger exited the van, allegedly dropping what Wagner believed to be a one-inch tall bindle of methamphetamine. Wagner immediately took the suspect into custody.

At the same time, on the other side of the van, a tense situation became worse as Jiminez exited the van and exploded in verbal abuse toward Whitney.

Whitney approached Jiminez cautiously and the suspect got back into the driver's side of the van, attempting to escape, putting it into gear and slamming into a planter box. With the door still open, Whitney reached in, grabbed Jiminez, trying to apprehend him. Jiminez jammed the van in reverse, with Whitney holding on the entire time.

Jiminez pulled out a 10-inch blade, sharpened on both sides, and begun swinging it at Whitney. The only weapon Whitney had readily available was his radio, which he used to strike Jiminez in the face.

As the melee heightened, Jiminez kicked Whitney, who fell to his knees. The CHP investigator was battered and bleeding, susceptible to Jiminez' next move. Apparently that move was to run over Whitney.

Whitney yelled to Wagner, telling him that the suspect was armed.

Instinct and training kicked in for Wagner. He released the passenger, ran around the back of the van, and, fearing for his partner's life, lifted his firearm.


Jiminez was struck in the groin, the stomach and the chest. The vehicle roared in reverse, striking the investigators' unmarked vehicle. Then it leaped forward, fleeing the scene.

Further away, the van, driving erratically, was spotted by another CHP unit. The pursuit ended almost as quickly as it began, when Jiminez jumped a curb and struck mailboxes, eventually coming to a stop.

The CHP officer took Jiminez into custody. He was treated for his injuries at a Fresno hospital, eventually being released into the custody of the Fresno County Jail, where, Wilson says, he remains to this day. He was charged with attempted murder, parole violation, domestic violence and vehicle theft.

A lifesaver

"It's not something you want to hear as a parent," Rosie Wagner said from her Lodi home about the incident that made her son a lifesaver. "But when he did have to do it, he did it and he didn't freeze."

And though Rosie Wagner never wanted to receive such news, the news that her son was then to be awarded the California Medal of Valor outweighed the images of the shooting incident.

At a ceremony on Dec. 9 in Sacramento, Wagner came face to face with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who hung the silver medal around the investigator's neck.

Both apprehensive and in awe, Wagner had a brief conversation with the governor.

"He said something, we talked briefly, but I don't remember what it was," Wagner said.

Tears in her eyes, Wagner's mother was awed as well. She recounted Whitney's wife approaching her son.

"His wife said, 'Thank you for saving his life,'" Rosie Wagner said.

Wilson was not surprised by Wagner receiving the medal. After all, he's the one who nominated Wagner for it. He said the DMV was looking for a way to honor the top investigator, and the medal "was the perfect fit."

"Everything that we trained for came into play, and played out just like I hoped. No hesitation or second thoughts. There's no time for that," Wagner said.

Contact Business Editor Marc Lutz at marcl@lodinews.com.

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1 comment:

  • posted at 3:22 am on Fri, Dec 19, 2008.


    Chris Wagner did a great job, his quick thinking did save his partners life. Now Chris it`s back to the range for more intencive training, 3 shots and that b****** is still breathing, he`s lucky or your a bad shot.



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