Denny Preston was the funniest guy in the room. Even when he was dying.
Preston spent 26 years with the Coon Rapids Police Department, eventually retiring as a sergeant in 2000. During those years, Preston became a beloved member of the department. He was fair to his colleagues, and to the people he might be arresting. And he was funny.
He stayed close with the department, taking a weekly breakfast with close friends for the decade-plus since he left the force.
A few weeks ago, when he was found not breathing in his living room, his wife Terri called 911. Within minutes, as his daughter Denise did CPR to revive Denny, a fleet of Coon Rapids squad cars swarmed the neighborhood, and officers who knew Denny well filled the house.
He came to, and glanced around, looking at a dozen cops.
"Why are you all in my bedroom?" Preston deadpanned. Then, noticing one high-ranking officer was there: "I thought you never got out from behind your desk."
Preston had been diagnoses with bladder cancer in June of 2014, and was thought to be free of the illness after a surgery a few months later. But the cancer had already spread, leaching into other parts of his body -- his lungs, his heart, his brain. Chemotherapy couldn't kill it, and Preston's blood was clotting. The episode of his collapse on the floor was a grave foretelling that his body was fighting a losing battle.
Preston, 72, was admitted to a hospital, where doctors determined he had only a matter of time. Days. Coon Rapids cops visited regularly, and a couple -- Capt. Tom Hawley and officer Bryan Platz -- seemed to be at his bedside every hour they weren't out on the beat. When Preston realized he was not going to get through it, he opted to head home for hospice care.
Hawley, Platz, and Chief Brad Wise made arrangements for a police escort for Preston's final trip home. His family expected a gesture of one or two squad cars. There were six.
When Preston reached home, the cops lined his driveway, giving their former colleague one last salute. His daughter Tamara Serna, a paralegal living in Minneapolis, says that day, October 24, had been a bad one for Preston, until he saw his friends lined up waiting for him.
"His face just lit up," Serna says.
Serna later submitted her footage of the moment to the Facebook group "Love What Matters." In less than a week, the short clip has been viewed 4 million times.
When he got toward the door, they gathered around to take a group photo. Preston offered some final words.
"You guys gotta come home safe," he told them. "Nothing's more important. I love all you guys."
Preston died the next day. At his funeral, cops got up and told funny, loving stories about their colleague. Turns out Preston wasn't all about catching the bad guy: Colleagues and civilians told stories about Preston forgiving traffic tickets, busting up teenagers' parties or pulling over drivers, and giving people a stern talking to and safe passage.
"He was respectful, and he wanted to help people," Serna says. "He would bring a lot of people home."
Platz, his fellow officer, was there with Preston his final day in this life. He placed his badge on Preston's chest. Pinning it back on his own police uniform, Platz told his family that part of Preston was going with him, and would be out on the streets with him, watching over the people of their northern suburb.
"The outpouring of support has been absolutely amazing," Serna says. "Cops aren't all hardened. They have feelings."