‘Our small, small token of gratitude’: Breaking ground on Aptos park’s Gutzwiller memorial

Groundbreaking at Willowbrook County Park
Damon Gutzwiller’s partner, Faviola Del Real (center), gets a hug from County Supervisor Zach Friend.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Family and friends of slain Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller were on hand Monday at Willowbrook County Park in Aptos as officials broke ground on a memorial to the deputy gunned down in 2020.

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On Monday, friends and family members of Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller came together to celebrate breaking ground at Willowbrook County Park in Aptos on a memorial honoring the fallen Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s sergeant.

In June 2020, Gutzwiller was gunned down by former military officer Steven Carrillo. Gutzwiller left behind partner Faviola Del Real, pregnant with a baby girl, and a then-2-year-old son, Carter.

After such a tragedy — the second death involving a county sheriff in Santa Cruz County — Del Real now has two bright spots on the horizon. Lookout reported on the first a few months ago: Families of officers killed on duty can now receive financial compensation regardless of family structure, including marital status. Del Real and Gutzwiller were not married, and as such their children were restricted from receiving benefits.

The second bright spot is the Reimagining Willowbrook Park Project in honor of Gutzwiller. The park was a special place for Gutzwiller — the neighborhood where he celebrated being a first-time homeowner. He would also frequent the park with his dog, Shasta.

The memorial will feature a bench space overlooking a circle of concentric bricks, and down a short pathway, a flagpole, both flanked by boulders adorned with metal plaques.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend said the memorial is a cross-generational symbol representing not just the park itself, but Gutzwiller’s memory and his family as well. “We can have two sections of the park that bring this community together in a very unique and special way,” said Friend, contrasting the excitement coming from the tennis courts nearby against the quiet of the memorial area.

To Del Real, Friend said, “This is our small, small token of gratitude back to you and your family in perpetuity, that you and your family have a place that we can honor not just you but future generations as well. We love you. This park is for you and your family.”

Mariah Roberts, director of the nonprofit County Park Friends, said she hoped the memorial would “last for generations. A testament to [Gutzwiller], but also to his community.”

The Santa Cruz County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association spearheaded the memorial effort, including raising $450,000 with donations from individuals, businesses and organizations. County Park Friends is sponsoring the memorial effort with support from the Santa Cruz County Parks Department and Friend.

Santa Cruz County Parks Director Jeff Gaffney added, “In my 30-plus years in parks, I’ve never seen something come together so quickly, collaboratively, and smoothly as this project has.”


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