In February, loved ones gathered to help Centreville's Rudy Illanes celebrate his 31st birthday. Two weeks ago, they gathered again; but this time, to lay him to rest.
Illanes, of the Singleton's Grove community, died June 11 in a tragic crash on I-495 after losing control of his vehicle. He left behind a wife, two young sons and a host of other relatives and friends to grieve his loss.
"It's still hard to understand that he's not coming back," said his brother Ronald Navarro, 23, Sunday, at the home in Centreville's Confederate Ridge community that he shares with his and Rudy's parents, Teresa and Alberto Navarro; sister, Jackie Navarro, 16, a rising senior at Centreville High; and brother, Luis Navarro, 10, who'll be a fifth-grader at Bull Run Elementary.
Illanes' wife, Zaira, and son Christian, 2, live in Singleton's Grove; his first wife, Oralia, and son Gabriel, 10, live in Seattle; and his biological father, Antonio Illanes, lives in Alexandria.
AND ALTHOUGH Rudy and his oldest child lived far apart, said Ronald, "My brother would call him every day or every other day. At the funeral, Gabriel cried and said, 'I miss my daddy.'"
A military veteran, Rudy Illanes served in the Gulf War during his four years' active duty with the Navy. He then served seven years in the U.S. Army Reserves. He also graduated from Marymount University with a bachelor's in criminology.
For the past two years, he was a federal police officer with the Department of Defense Police in the Naval District of Washington, D.C. Illanes worked jointly with the U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Protective Service Police and the Department of the Navy.
"He provided outstanding support and protection for the Vice President of the United States and also for the Secretary of Homeland Security and numerous, high-ranking, Navy flag officers," said Lt. Jerome Harbison, his supervisor with the Department of Defense Police. "In all my 31 years of Naval and federal-government service, I've not seen a more dedicated professional."
One of the pallbearers at Illanes' funeral, Harbison said, "He was a big loss to me. He was always making jokes and was an all-around, good-hearted person. He strived to excel, be it on or off duty, and he took college courses to better himself."
Ronald Navarro said Rudy was very patriotic and always wanted to be a police officer. An uncle, Walter Saravia of Alexandria, had been a law-enforcement officer in Bolivia and, said Navarro, "He was a strong figure in my brother's life. "Rudy always wanted to help people."
One of Illanes' shift sergeants, Cesar Joseph, called him a good person and an "energetic and reliable police officer." On the job, said Harbison, Illanes displayed "an outstanding initiative. His commitment to excellence set an outstanding example for his peers."
Still, said Harbison, Illanes was "looking forward to moving on to bigger and better things." And in May, he'd begun a new job with the Public Defender Service. As a staff investigator, he researched cases going to court in the District of Columbia.
Harbison helped him get that job, but said, "I really didn't want to lose him. Speaking on behalf of the Department, he'll be missed. And we have his family in our thoughts and prayers."
Illanes' new employer also feels his loss. "The Public Defender Service had looked forward to [his] talent and energy," said Julia Leighton, PDS general counsel. "In the short time he spent [here], Rudy touched many individuals with his warmth, and our heartfelt sympathies go out to his family and friends."
PROUD OF ALL his brother accomplished in his brief life, Navarro said Illanes had recently set new goals. "That Thursday [before he died], he was speaking with my mom about becoming a lawyer," said Navarro.
Illanes put in long hours as a police officer and wanted to change professions. He planned to start classes in the fall. But a freak accident in the early-morning hours of June 11 ended his hopes and dreams.
Illanes and his wife had recently separated and, although they were working toward reconciling, he was living in Burke at the time of the crash. Navarro said his brother was southbound on I-495, coming home from a friend's house, and was just about to take the Braddock Road exit when the tragedy occurred.
According to Virginia State Trooper L.B. Cameron, Illanes was driving a 2000 Mercedes SUV, around 3:15 a.m., when he lost control and ran off the road to the left. "The vehicle struck a guardrail head-on, causing the [SUV] to overturn onto the passenger side, ejecting him," said Cameron. She said Illanes was going the speed limit, but was not wearing a seatbelt.
Authorities didn't know exactly what caused him to crash but, said Navarro, "Someone who was driving on 495 at the same time told us she saw a car stopped on 495 without its emergency lights on. She swerved to miss it. Then, in her rear-view mirror, she saw Rudy swerving, too, and hitting the guardrail."
Police broke the news to the family a few hours later, around 6:30 a.m. They said Illanes died on impact.
"It's very, very hard for me," said his mother, Teresa Navarro, Sunday in her Centreville home. "I can't believe it." The tables and walls of her living room were lovingly decorated with several pictures of her family, including her first-born, Rudy. But hung outside on the door to the home was a large, black bow to signify the family's grief.
"A lot of times he'd leave for training in the army, or work long hours in the police," said Teresa Navarro. "And that's how we feel now — that he's gone and he'll still come back."
Rudy played a central role in his family's life, and his death leaves a definite void. "We have a huge family, and we always get together with cousins for different events," said Ronald Navarro. "Rudy was always the leader. He did the toasts at Christmas and led the prayers at Thanksgiving."
THEY BOTH enjoyed playing soccer together and, said Ronald, "On weekends, he'd come here and we'd relax and watch movies on TV. As a brother, he always offered help; we could rely on him. And he was especially close with my mom." Said Teresa Navarro: "He'd call me every day and say, 'I love you.'"
Illanes' June 15 funeral was at St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church, where he got married, with burial at National Memorial Park in Falls Church. Then on June 19, a private memorial service for family and friends was held at Santa Maria Catholic Church in Falls Church.
"The entire church was filled and people were standing," said his brother. "He had a lot of people who loved him, and many people he'd helped came. We never imagined how many people cared about him. And it brought our whole family closer together."
Now, said Ronald, "We pray a lot, we go to church and we keep him in our memories. He did so much in such a short time."
The Department of Defense Police has established a trust fund at Chevy Chase Bank in Centreville for Illanes' sons' education. Contributions, payable to Teresa Navarro, may be sent to her at 14721 General Lee Drive, Centreville, VA 20121.