Sep. 18—Family, friends and fellow California Highway Patrol officers gathered Friday morning to honor the life of CHP Officer Scott Merritt during a service held in his honor at Valley Bible Church.
Merritt was remembered as a hard-working, fastidious investigator by his colleagues and also a family man who loved nothing more than being in the outdoors — or pulling a prank.
Merritt grew up in Wasco and graduated as salutatorian from Wasco High School in 1997. He began what would become his ultimate career when he joined the CHP in 2005. He began in Santa Cruz before transferring to Bakersfield in 2010. In 2014, he became a Drug Enforcement Administration task force officer.
He died Sept. 10 at age 42 from complications of COVID-19. He is survived by his wife, Shanon Merritt, and two children, Madison and Nolan Merritt, as well as his parents, Randy and Pattie Merritt.
At Friday's memorial service, Shanon shared a statement through CHP Officer Jeremiah Bridges, a colleague who had known him from Wasco. Toward the end of Merritt's life, Shanon was allowed to see him a few times at Mercy Southwest. The nurse assured her that even though he was sedated and on a ventilator, he could hear his wife.
"I talked to him about how our lives were going to change," Bridges said, reading Shanon's words. "We were not going to worry so much, but enjoy life."
Shanon told him that there would be a parade of people welcoming him when he was discharged from the hospital — this memorial service wasn't what she had in mind.
"He made every wish of mine come true," Bridges read from Shanon's writing. "From the moment I met him, I knew my life would change. We had a special bond and even shared the same birthday. Needless to say, our lives will not be the same without him."
Fellow CHP officers and top brass spoke at Merritt's memorial.
CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said Merritt worked on many high-profile cases on the DEA task force, but he was quick to give credit to others.
"He wanted to make a difference in the communities he served and the task force allowed him to do just that," Ray said.
His partner, supervisory special agent Ryan Olson, worked on cases that took Merritt all around the country, from Las Vegas to Seattle to Little Rock, Ark. Olson said on a large-scale investigation that took them to Grand Forks, N.D.,they found themselves at a bar. Merritt decided to get behind the bar to serve drinks — these were some hijinks that didn't go well.
But Olson said Merritt was sharp and would always go the extra mile. Once he staked out a truck in his personal vehicle, which led them to a warehouse in a $2 million case. Olson called Merritt a "true gentleman and a scholar."
Bridges described Merritt as a prankster, an outdoorsman and "a man's man." He joked that God must have needed help with a case in heaven.
"Scott was always dogged in his pursuit of justice, studious and diligent while honing his craft," said Bridges.
CHP Officer Scott Evans began his CHP career with Merritt. They were paired together on the graveyard shift, but Evans said there was nothing Merritt wouldn't do to not make it home to his wife and kids. Despite the long work hours together, their families would get together to enjoy barbecue, ride dirt bikes and camp.
Evans said Merritt was always there for him, whether he needed career advice or when he lost his brother.
"I leaned on Scott for his knowledge and experience," Evans said.
Some of Merritt's old friends from Wasco said that even when he was a teenager he had the traits that his colleagues recognized that made him a standout later in life. In high school, he played football, and friends remembered that even then, he was a leader who was always ready to pitch in.
"He was the best of all of us," said Shaye Ohanneson, a fellow Tigers teammate.
Amanda Ayala had been two years ahead of him in high school. She laughed, remembering when he had been her Rose Queen escort.
"He was just a kind guy," she said. "He was always willing to help, even from the time he was a young man."
Ayala said Wasco felt a little like Friday Night Lights, where everyone knew everyone and their families. Merritt was a lot like his father in his eyes, his voice booming and always laughing.
"You could see that sparkle in his eyes," she said.
You can reach Emma Gallegos at 661-395-7394.