Leslee Haney fought back tears as she spoke about how her infant son Cole will never remember any of the experiences he shared with his father, the late Deputy Brian Haney.
But thanks, in part, to a new plaque adorning a memorial rock at the base of a new flagpole at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, Cole—who was only a month old when his dad passed—can someday understand the deputy’s impact on the town in which he served.
“I know that our son Cole may not understand everything right now. And he won’t remember his dad, remember his dad and his own experiences, but things like this memorial will help him realize how important and special his daddy was, not just to our little family but to everyone around him,” a grieving Leslee said Friday morning, Sept. 22.
Brian, who had been with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department since 2016 and was a member of the Critical Incident Response Team in San Juan Capistrano, died in a traffic collision in Lake Elsinore on Feb. 9.
To commemorate Brian and his service to the town, the San Juan Capistrano City Council voted in early August to approve plans to erect the flagpole and construct the memorial dedication at the community center.
On Friday morning, the city held a ceremony to unveil the memorial with Brian’s family, including Leslee, Cole and his parents Gary and Wendy Haney in attendance. Joining them were dozens of Brian’s fellow deputies and OCSD officials such as Sheriff Don Barnes and Capt. Justin Montano, the chief of San Juan Police Services.
“It’s fitting that we honor Brian Haney’s memory with a flagpole because as much as Brian was irreplaceable to his family and loved ones, talented and patriotic servicemembers, such as U.S. Air Force Airman Haney, are such a rare breed in our society,” Mayor Howard Hart said.
“And it is so fitting that the flagpole be erected near the entrance to our soon-to-be Council Chambers, because those of us who are given the honor of occupying those chambers would do well to remember that we serve a city that is kept safe by dedicated, loyal and disciplined deputies such as Brian Haney,” Hart added.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes echoed that sentiment, noting that the dedication was not only a fitting tribute to Brian, but also fulfilled a promise to the Haney family that the department and city wouldn’t forget the public servant whose life was cut short seven months ago.
“It probably, at times, feels like seven minutes. And probably, at times, feels like seven years as we go through the many emotions that you feel and we feel with you knowing Brian, and it doesn’t get any easier in doing that,” Barnes said.
Regarding the memorial plaque’s impact on the town and future generations, Barnes said he would like young kids entering the community center to see it, learn about Brian and potentially be inspired to answer the call of public service.
“That they’ll honor him by knowing what integrity stands for, maybe wanting to emulate him in his public service, and entering into one of the many proud professions that fulfill that obligation,” Barnes said.
Expressing hope for the future, Barnes said he would one day like for Brian’s family and his friends at the sheriff’s department to be able to replace their grief with cherished memories of Brian.
“My hope for the family, specifically, and the team in San Juan Capistrano, is that as time goes on, your grief is replaced with fond memories of Brian and you’re able to feel a little less pain,” Barnes said, adding, “my hope is that the pain subsides over time, and you restore it to the great memories of Brian provided for you and shared together.”
Before she received from Hart the American flag as a memorial to Brian, Leslee expressed gratitude to those who supported the family over the last seven months and had worked to make the dedication possible.
As for Cole, Leslee went on to note that in addition to the plaque, he’ll have Brian’s friends, family and professional partners around to learn more about his dad’s commitment to serving the public.
“Friends, (Brian’s) impact on this community,” Leslee said, as well as, “family and partners will teach Cole how special his dad was.”