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Jardine: Injured officer's wife spent 7 years at his bedside

In the fall of 1977, Diana Peters worked as a dispatcher at the Ceres Police Department.

Steve May, just 21 at the time, came in one day for a job interview with Chief Leroy Cunningham. Diana decided instantly that she disliked him.

"He was so cocky and arrogant and conceited," she said. "After he left, I marched right into the chief’s office and said, ‘Don’t hire him. We have a reserve officer who’s been waiting. (Cunningham) didn’t listen."

So much for first impressions. Turned out she couldn’t have been more wrong about the guy who turned out to be so right.

"He had cute eyes," she conceded.

She became Diana May — Mrs. Steve May — 14 months later, spending the next 30years as his loving and devoted wife and mother of his two children.

Never would such love and devotion be more evident and necessary than in their marriage.

Diana spent the last seven years of his life at his bedside, rarely missing a day while he lay in a coma.

She arrived at the hospital before the night shift ended so that she could get updates on his condition from the nurses before they went home.

She bathed and shaved him, and she took his hospital bedding home to wash because the detergents the hospitals used bothered his skin.

She did this knowing he would never again smile at her, make her laugh, kiss her or even mumble "thanks."

She did this for the greatest reason of all.

"I’ve never seen a couple in love like those two," said Gail Smith, a longtime family friend and co-worker at the Modesto Police Department. "He was the love of her life."

Modesto Police Sgt. Steve May, 53, died Thursday afternoon from injuries suffered in an on-duty crash while searching for a car-theft suspect in the airport neighborhood July 29, 2002. The suspect, 18-year-old Joshua Scott Corralejo, crashed a stolen pickup at roughly 60 miles an hour into May’s patrol car at South Santa Cruz Avenue and Mono Drive, pinning May’s car against a tree.

Corralejo died moments later when he was ejected from the pickup as it slammed into a home.

May, who moved from the Ceres police to Modesto police in February 1979, never regained consciousness. Diana never wavered in her dedication.

Only when Diana’s parents died two years apart — her dad in July 2004 and mother in July 2006 — did she miss any significant time with Steve. She spent a week away for each funeral.

Otherwise, her life became a routine built upon making Steve as comfortable as possible for as long as he would last. It turned into seven years.

Why did he live so long?

"That woman," said Bob Bashaw, a retired MPD officer who worked alongside Steve May. "I really believe it was her love and devotion to that man."

A love and devotion shared equally, said Sgt. Tim Helton, who worked with May on patrol in the early 1990s and again in the gang unit in the late 1990s.

"They had a unique relationship," Helton said. "Some people talk family. But Steve really lived it. He’d call home during the shift and tell them, ‘I love you.’ He took care of them and they took care of him."

Steve was a cop’s cop and a man’s man, and she was a cop’s wife through and through. Diana once made Steve a pair of gang dolls as a joke when he worked in the gang unit. Each doll wore a baseball cap backward, packed a toy pistol and wore shoes and a tank top in the street-ready colors: red for the Norteños and blue for the Sureños.

Helton liked the dolls so much that he "kidnapped" them for a weekend.

"I took them with me to Reno to do a gang presentation," Helton said. "They were a big hit with the gang cops."

Diana understood her husband and the dangers associated with his profession. That is why, friend Smith said, she never questioned her purpose in life in his remaining years after the crash. She would tend to her husband, and that was that.

"What made it unusual was that she didn’t think it was unusual," Smith said. "She thinks that’s how anybody would act."

Their children, 29-year-old Corrine and 26-year-old Michael, learned well from their parents. They have been there for each other through the seven-year ordeal.

"My parents have the kind of relationship you don’t see anymore," Corrine May said. "She was tired, but it never stopped her from taking care of Dad. If there was even a glimmer of hope that they could heal him, she would fight for him forever. We’re a very united family."

"She’s definitely one of the toughest people I’ve ever met and had pleasure of knowing," Michael May said about his mother. "I hope it’s hereditary."

Indeed, Corrine and Michael put their aspirations aside to support their parents and each other.

"I wanted to be a Marine," Michael said. "But the family was more important. I don’t regret the choices I made. You really learn the value of family by taking care of each other. Until you do, you can’t appreciate the dedication."

Diana, Corrine and Michael together made the decisions involving Steve’s care, including the last one.

He somehow managed to fight off the many illnesses that could have claimed him over the years. He continued to breathe on his own until about 18 months ago, when he finally went on a ventilator.

But a few weeks ago, Steve developed a series of fevers and then pneumonia.

"We knew it was different," Diana said.

They let him go, and after seven years of caring for him every day, now what?

"I feel sort of lost of what to do," Diana said. "I don’t have Steve. I can’t touch him anymore. It’s another new normal, except there’s no normal."

Still, they know they made the right decision.

"There’s a relief that Steve is free," Diana said.

Because the man who seemed so very wrong and turned out to be so perfectly right will hold a place in her heart forever.

Said Diana, "He’s such a part of me."

Jeff Jardine’s column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@ modbee.com or 578-2383.

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