A Los Angeles police officer was killed early Saturday morning when an SUV slammed into the patrol car he was driving during a pursuit in Harbor City. This is the third LAPD officer to die in a traffic collision in the past two months.
LAPD police spokesman Andrew Smith tells KPCC the officer, a six-year veteran, died at a nearby hospital as a result of his injuries. Police later identified the officer as Roberto Sanchez, 32. His partner, who has not been identified, was injured in the crash and remains hospitalized in critical but stable condition, Smith said.
"There's no indication the officers did anything wrong. They were doing what we want them to do every night — patrolling the neighborhood," Smith said. Smith said that the mood of the department has been "subdued" the last few months due to the string of officer deaths.
"Even if you don't know the officer personally, it still has a terrible effect on everybody in this department when something like this happens," Smith said.
He said that, since those officers were killed, there hasn't been the "usual joking in the hallways."
The incident occurred at Anaheim Street and President Avenue. Smith said the officers had been pursuing a speeding white Chevrolet Camaro westbound on Anaheim when the car suddenly made a U-turn. The officers executed their own U-turn, at which point a Chevrolet Tahoe struck the driver's side of the patrol car.
The driver of the Tahoe then fled on foot. Officers have detained someone they believe to be the driver of the Tahoe. The Camaro and its driver have not been found.
"Here they are in the middle of the night patrolling this neighborhood, keeping people safe, trying to protect the good folks that are living around here and unfortunately for us lately, tragedy has stuck just too many times," Smith said.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the city's flags be lowered to half-mast.
Chief Charlie Beck said, "There's only two individuals that know exactly what the officers were doing at that time. One of them is severely injured, and the other one is deceased."
When asked about the recent series of officers killed in traffic collisions, Smith said the LAPD takes "a long look, complete, thorough investigation" into this and other traffic collisions. "Anything we can do or learn to prevent these collisions."
Smith referenced a 1988 incident, describing a common practice of driving the wrong way down one-way streets in late night and early morning pursuits. "Now, we don't do it. We learn from our tragedies," Smith said.
Smith says he can't confirm if the officers were in pursuit or if the patrol cruiser's red light or siren were activated. "There's too much damage to tell what the condition of the red lights were."
Sanchez is survived by his wife. His injured partner was also his best friend, according to police. That officer suffered a broken jaw.
The other officers who've been killed in recent traffic collision include an officer killed in March when his patrol car was hit by a dump truck and a motorcycle officer struck and killed in April by a driver alleged to have been under the influence of cocaine.
Officer Nicholas Choung Lee was killed March 7 when the 16-year veteran's patrol car was hit by a dump truck that was suffering from a mechanical malfunction. The truck was going downhill as the officer was going up the hill with his partner. Lee's partner, who had been in the field less than a year, and the driver of the truck both suffered injuries.
Motorcycle officer Chris Cortijo was struck by an SUV in Sun Valley while waiting at a red light on Saturday, April 5. The SUV's driver was allegedly under the influence of cocaine. Cortijo died several days later on Wednesday, April 9. Cortijo had won LAPD officer of the year twice, according to Chief Beck.
Smith says the LAPD will soon have another funeral for a fallen comrade.
"It just breaks your heart to sit their and watch the family and when you see people's families at these funerals and you see their moms and dads and wives and sometimes their children, it just tears you apart a whole 'nother time," Smith said.
L.A. Mayor Garcetti issued a statement on Sanchez's death:
"I am deeply saddened by the death of LAPD Officer Roberto Sanchez. Officer Sanchez died a hero, but that does not lessen the blow to his family and fellow officers. Amy's and my thoughts are with his family and his brothers and sisters in blue today. We are also hoping for the recovery of the officer he was riding with last night, who was also his best friend. This third loss of an officer in the line of duty in just two months is a stark and tragic reminder of the dangers our first responders face every day. It is with a heavy heart that I am again ordering the city's flags to half staff."
California Gov. Jerry Brown issued his own statement:
“Anne and I extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Officer Sanchez as they mourn this tragic loss,” said Brown. “Californians will not forget Officer Sanchez’s service to his community and the sacrifice of the family he’s left behind.”
California Attorney General Kamala Harris also issued a statement on Sanchez's death:
“On behalf of the California Department of Justice, I extend my deepest sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Officer Roberto Sanchez. California’s entire law enforcement family has lost a devoted colleague. We will always remember his dedication to protect and serve the people of California.
"I thank the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department for their service and remarkable professionalism following the deaths of now three colleagues in the past two months.”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League issued their own statement on Sanchez's death, as well as another officer who died Friday night of a heart condition:
“Once again our hearts are broken,” LAPPL President Tyler Izen said. “The LAPPL is saddened by the deaths of two officers in the past 24 hours. One officer died overnight due to a medical condition and Officer Roberto Sanchez was killed by a suspected DUI driver today while protecting and serving the residents of Los Angeles in the Harbor Area.
"Today the world has lost a true hero. Roberto will be greatly missed as a protector of our society and even more as a person. We live in a dangerous world and Roberto served to keep our community safe. We extend our deepest condolences to the Sanchez family and his friends and coworkers.
“This is a hard time for the LAPD family having lost two dedicated and well-liked officers in the last 24 hours. As we have done all too often lately, we ask that the community please keep both officers and their families in their prayers and remember the sacrifices paid by law enforcement officers daily to keep our communities safe.
"We are praying for a speedy recovery for Officer Sanchez' partner, who was seriously injured in the crash, but managed to use his cell phone to call for help.”
(Photo via KPCC media partner NBC L.A.)
This story will be updated.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misidentified Roberto Sanchez as Robert Sanchez. KPCC regrets the error.