ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- A recently retired Alameda County sheriff's deputy is back in the Bay Area following a solo cross country cycling trip. Deputy James Del Rio logged 3,500 miles from California to Virginia. But it wasn't until he was on the road that his friends discovered the reason for his monumental trip.
Cellphone video shows Deputy Del Rio reaching the Atlantic Ocean. He dips his toes in the water while holding his bike. It's a moment 20 years coming.
"It was very emotional," said Del Rio.
He spent 68 days riding his bike across the country leaving San Francisco's Presidio on May 24.
"It's been a long time coming. I wanted to do this 20 years ago. My partner and friend was killed at the Outback Steakhouse in Dublin," explained Del Rio.
Deputy John Monego, contracted to work for the Dublin Police Department, responded to the steakhouse on Dec. 11, 1998. Little did Dep. Monego know from the dropped 911 call that three men had taken people hostage inside, including another officer who'd responded first. One of the robbers shot the 33-year-old deputy through the window then stepped outside and shot him in the back, which would be the fatal shots.
Sheriff Greg Ahern worked the case as the lead homicide investigator before eventually becoming sheriff.
"There's a few cases that stick in your head and never ever go away and you deal with them on a daily basis. You're reminded of them all the time," said Sheriff Ahern.
Off camera Ahern walked through the details of that night with a clarity as if the deadly shooting had happened just yesterday. He paused at times trying to stifle the sad memories before continuing.
Del Rio says he avoids thinking about it every day. "But, it's something that you do think about. It'll just pop up and usually when I'm riding a bike it'll happen," said Del Rio.
Like Ahern, the memories are sharp for Del Rio and covering 3,500 miles from California to Virginia meant he had many hours to think about chasing down the killer and two accomplices.
"For James to arrest the person who killed your partner is not an easy thing to do at all," noted Ret. Dep. J.D. Nelson, who worked for ACSO out of the Eden Township Station at the time.
Del Rio was one of the responding officers who after a car chase caught the three robbers. Ruben Vasquez, a 23-year-old Modesto man, was convicted in the killing of Dep. Monego. He's serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. Two other men, who held the Outback customers and staff hostage were convicted and sentenced in the robbery.
Nelson says losing a partner is something you never get over.
"I don't think you ever do. I think it's why he did this because he hasn't quite recovered yet and this is his way of paying a tribute," said Nelson.
Nelson and others cheered on their friend in a text message chain.
"He would send pictures of where he was," explained Nelson, and the crew of friends would send jokes back, "Hey you dropped something in Kansas City turn around go back and get it things like that."