CORDELIA -- Kaycee phoned her father, petrified as she heard a stranger walking through the house.

As the then-high school sophomore cowered in her room with a friend, her father John Caughman -- miles away from the house -- did what every Aspen Court resident in need of help did. He called Ken.

Neighbor Kenyon Youngstrom, a California Highway Patrol officer, told Caughman to have his daughter stay put, got his flashlight and searched the entire house. "Tell your daughter it's all clear," Youngstrom told his worried friend.

It turned out the "intruder" was Caughman's black Labrador retriever, who went into the house through a backyard screen and loudly tramped on the home's wood laminate floors, terrifying Kaycee.

The 2009 incident became a running joke between the two families. But on Thursday, Caughman retold the story with a heavy heart, less than 24 hours after his friend and trusted neighbor succumbed to a bullet wound to the head after a traffic stop Tuesday morning on a freeway shoulder in Alamo.

The suspect in the shooting, Christopher Lacy -- a 36-year-old software engineer from Rancho Tehama, near Corning -- was shot to death moments later by a second CHP officer. That officer has been placed on paid administrative leave per standard procedure.

Investigators offered no new details Thursday about a possible motive, other than to say that Youngstrom was shot just a few seconds after first speaking with Lacy. But in the wake of the shooting, most friends and colleagues of the 37-year old father of four talked not about the circumstances of his death but the legacy of his life.


Advertisement

After Youngstrom was taken off life support, his organs and body tissue were donated. That act could save the lives of up to eight people and aid 50 more, officials said.

Youngstrom's family called him "our hero" in a statement released through the Oakland-based nonprofit California Transplant Donor Network.

"Our grief is overwhelming. But in his special way, Kenyon carries on in helping others," the family said. "This was our Kenyon; he's our hero and, in the midst of our grief, we are comforted to know he continues to help others."

CHP officials said plans for a memorial for Youngstrom are not yet finalized, but donation accounts have been set up for Youngstrom's children, ages 16, 13, 10 and 4. Donors can visit any Wells Fargo or Mechanics Bank and give money to the "Kenyon Marc Youngstrom Children's Benefit Memorial Fund."

Wells Fargo delayed setting up its fund until Friday, but Mechanics Bank had already taken in more than 100 donations totaling more than $25,000 as of Thursday afternoon, according to Steve Buster, president and chief executive officer.

"It's a great start and we're hoping much more (will come in) for this family," said Buster, who also serves as a captain for the Alameda County Sheriff's Air Squadron. "This is a cause that's very near and dear to my heart, and we're very anxious to support this campaign."

News of Youngstrom's death hit his large Vallejo church congregation hard, its pastor said.

The Youngstrom family had attended Community Bible Church on Broadway for the past 16 years. Youngstrom served as an usher, helping latecomers find seats during Sunday services. His wife Karen helped out in the nursery.

"We were shocked and saddened when we heard the news," said senior pastor Steve Fernandez.

The pastor said he believes the devout Youngstrom, a regular at Bible study, was being called to God.

"We realize God was in control. That was evident in the circumstances of his death. He was just being himself, wanting to help, and he was shot," he said.

Kenyon Youngstrom at his CHP graduation in 2006.
Kenyon Youngstrom at his CHP graduation in 2006. (Courtesy photo)

"He was very funny and lighthearted," said Michael Lucas, a fellow church member and college ministry leader. "He liked to make you laugh. He was an energetic guy."

The greater Bay Area also mourned. The One Hundred Club of Contra Costa County will donate $15,000 to Youngstrom's widow within 48 hours of his death, said volunteer Maggie Lucca. The nonprofit, which has clubs throughout the nation, supports the families of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

"Out of the blue, your dad is gone and your husband is gone," she said. "That is very traumatic."

By late Thursday, thousands of supporters called for the Interstate 680 stretch where Youngstrom was shot to be named after the fallen officer.

Flags were flown at half-staff at the Martinez CHP station and across California, and with Youngstrom's family in attendance the state agency performed a ceremonial bell ringing Thursday at the West Sacramento CHP Academy from which the officers graduated in 2006. The seven-year veteran would start his law enforcement career in the Martinez office. He had also served as a unit supply specialist in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1994 to 2000, assigned to the 301st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade which had been on Mare Island.

Youngstrom, who has a twin brother and four other siblings, grew up in the Los Angeles area, and was a fan of the NFL team that later moved to St. Louis.

Being "a Rams fan was his only fault," laughed Richard Rogers, former president of Oakland Football Marketing Association, where a 22-year-old pre-law enforcement Youngstrom worked. "He was one of those guys that was always there to help," Rogers said.

Back on Aspen Court, Caughman remembered his buddy tossing the football with their kids or playing whiffle ball. When Caughman's oldest daughter had a few people over for a party, Youngstrom came with his trusty flashlight to check and make sure they were wanted guests.

"With Ken around," he said, "I never had to worry about anything."

Staff writers Sarah Rohrs, Sean Maher, David DeBolt and Daniel M. Jimenez contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.