Franklin County life saver fights brain cancer

By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writerDecember 31, 2009 

PASCO -- Franklin County sheriff's Sgt. Dan Gayda doesn't plan on letting brain cancer slow him down.

Gayda, who has worked for the sheriff's office for 27 1/2 years, retires Friday. Doctors told him he couldn't continue working, thwarting his plan to be on the job for at least 30 years.

But Gayda, 54, of Burbank, will continue volunteering with the Benton-Franklin Rodeo Committee and the Benton-Franklin Mounted Sheriff's Posse. He is on leave from his volunteer firefighter position with Walla Walla County Fire District 5, where he has served for 10 years.

Gayda describes himself as an "adrenaline junkie," and said it's always been about the "lights and sirens, big trucks and patrol cars."

His retirement will allow him to give more time to the posse, which he has belonged to for 20 years, and devote more time to the alpaca farm he and his wife, Sheryl, are starting.

Gayda started as a sheriff's deputy in July 1982. He had served as a Benton County Sheriff's Office reserve deputy and at the Benton County jail for a year before starting with Franklin County.

The work environment and his superiors are what kept him with the Franklin County Sheriff's Office for so long, he said.

Sheriff Richard Lathim said Gayda always has been dependable, well-rounded and involved in the community. Gayda also cares about the people he serves, he said.

When Gayda started, he was a resident deputy in Basin City, Lathim said. The tire store in Basin City had a string of thefts. Gayda was checking the store one night and noticed an open door. He called Lathim, who was a canine handler at the time, and they caught the burglar in the store.

He also saved some children who were in a cave that collapsed in a hillside north of Pasco. Lathim said Gayda saw the cave collapse, and he dug the children out before they suffocated. He received a life-saving commendation from Lathim for his actions.

Gayda also was a canine handler, and served on the Tri-Cities Metro Drug Task Force for 3 1/2 years.

He's still physically able to do what he could before he was diagnosed with cancer. In fact, Gayda said he wouldn't have known anything was wrong until the morning late last year when he was reading the newspaper and realized he could not make sense of the sentences.

Medical tests showed a spot in his brain, but doctors weren't sure what it was, Gayda said. After a year of uncertainty, he went to Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center in October. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in November.

He is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, and he is optimistic.

"I've got a good outlook on it," Gayda said.

-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512;

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