What started as a routine call about a traffic accident Monday morning ended with a gun battle that took the life of a Whittier police officer after he and his partner tried to pat down one of the drivers for weapons and he pulled out a semi-automatic handgun.
Los Angeles Sheriff's officials said the man, who has not yet been identified, was driving a stolen car connected with a murder that had been committed hours earlier in East Los Angeles.
Officers Keith Lane Boyer and Patrick Hazel arrived at Colima Road and Mar Vista Street around 8 a.m. One motorist pointed out the location of the car that had rear-ended his vehicle, and the officers approached the driver of that vehicle, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. John Corina said at an afternoon news conference.
"When they get [the suspect] out of the car, they go to pat him down for weapons, they can see he's got tattoos all over his face and all over his neck," Corina said. That's when he pulled out a gun and the shooting started.
The officers and the alleged gunman were all hurt. Hazel and the suspect were hospitalized in stable condition, Corina said.
Boyer, 53, was pronounced dead at taken to UCI Medical Center. Boyer joined the department as a dispatcher and jailer in 1989 and became a full-time officer in 1990.
"[Boyer] was a personal friend of mine for over 25 years," Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper said. "And I can honestly say, on behalf of all the officers, that he was the best of the best. Our community knows him and they would say the same thing.
"Keith was very humble," Piper added. "He was always smiling, positive, energetic, diligent and not too recently was talking to me about retirement."
Piper added that Boyer was a drummer in a band in which Piper had also played guitar. A photo of Boyer at the drums is posted on the officer's Facebook page:
Sheriff's officials said the 26-year-old suspect is a known gang member who had been paroled several days earlier.
The morning homicide was at a home in Los Angeles "and we're told [the victim] was a [male] relative of the suspect," said Corina, the L.A. Sheriff's lieutenant.
Investigators have not determined why the suspect was driving through Whittier, Corina said.
Piper, who had to stop speaking to hold back tears, criticized criminal justice reforms which have reduced sentences for some offenses.
"We need to wake up," Piper said. "Enough is enough. You're passing these propositions, you're creating these laws that [are] raising crime. It's not good for our communities and it's not good for our officers. What you have today is an example of that. So we need to pull our head out of the sand and start realizing what we're doing to our communities and to our officers who give their life like officer Boyer did today."
But officials would not say what offenses the suspect in Boyer's shooting had been released from prison for committing and it's unclear whether any of the recent reforms lessened his sentence.
Boyer apparently played in several bands over the years. Another of Boyer's former band mates and friend, Jeff Mcneal, said Boyer was "a wonderful, wonderful guy." He said their band played classic rock hits from the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
"He was an extremely, humble, positive, enthusiastic, friendly guy. I mean, he was just...he loved people," McNeal said. "He loved performing with the band and he was very good at it."
McNeal said he sent a text to "all of the members of our band --including Keith-- and praying that it wasn't true.
"He was usually one of the first to respond, you know, whenever I sent a text to the band," he added. "So when I didn't hear back from him... you know, ten minutes, half hour...I figured it must be true. And I didn't want to believe it. I really didn't."
On Monday afternoon, a long line of police cars escorted Boyer's body from the hospital to the Los Angeles County coroner's office. Mourners placed candles and flowers at an impromptu memorial outside the Whittier police headquarters.
About 400 people attended a prayer vigil for Boyer Monday night outside the Whittier Police Station.
Longtime Whittier resident Joanne Carrell attended the vigil waving a black and white American flag with one stripe colored blue symbolizing the “thin blue line.”
“We love our police officers and we just want to say thank you for each and every one of them, what they have done for their community and to protect us — and we want to protect them too."
Nearby, longtime Whittier resident Cynthia Salazar held a tiny candle. She said this sort of thing doesn’t happen in Whittier.
“These Whittier cops are just so human and compassionate and hardcore. Wonderful people," she said. "And I’m just devastated this is really actually happening.”
Several public officials issued statements after the shooting, including Governor Jerry Brown who said Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff to honor Boyer.
Numerous comments from people identifying themselves as friends and relatives of Boyer were posted on Facebook within hours of the shooting, many with his police department photo:
The Whittier Police Department has about 125 sworn officers who patrol Whittier and Santa Fe Springs in southeastern Los Angeles County.
"What I want to let the Whittier community know and the Santa Fe Springs community know — because we’ve partnered with them since 1995 — is that the men and women of this department give their soul for this city, and I know that because you’re here," Piper said at the vigil.
Only two officers with the department have died in the line of duty and they that was decades ago: a detective in 1979 and a corporal in 1977.
This story has been updated.