California News

5 CHP officers killed on duty in two months

Monday, June 28, 2010

Two CHP officers were killed by wayward vehicles during traffic incidents Sunday. A total of four CHP officers were killed in similar crashes in the month of June. Five have now been killed in the line of duty in fewer than two months.

It has been perhaps the worst months in California Highway Patrol history. Officers have been killed in the line of duty since May, four of them this month. Two were killed Sunday. All of them died trying to protect the public and make roads and highways safer.

CHP officers Justin McGrory and Brett Oswald were killed in the line of duty on the same day. Both deaths involved a vehicle crashing into the officer during traffic incidents.

Flags were flown at half-staff at the California Highway Patrol station where McGrory worked near Barstow.

The 28-year-old officer was struck on Interstate 15 near Barstow. McGrory and his partner stopped a speeding car near Hodge Road and were on the northbound shoulder of the freeway when a car veered into their patrol vehicle.

McGrory joined the CHP less than three years ago. He followed the footsteps of his father, who was based in Victorville years ago.

CHP Sgt. Kevin Eads remembers the young boy who wanted to become a patrolman.

"It's emotional. It's a little closer to home, so we just have to get by right now, one day at a time," said Eads.

The driver of that vehicle, 18-year-old Rafael Garcia of Las Vegas, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter. Garcia could face additional charges. Authorities are waiting to find out the toxicology results to see if he was under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.

"He was very cooperative with investigators. He was also remorseful for what happened at the scene yesterday morning," said CHP Officer Mario Lopez.

Interstate 15 was shut down for hours. Nobody else was hurt in the incident.

McGrory was airlifted to St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley where he died of his injuries.

"He was a good-natured kid, fun-loving and looked like he would be a good dad and husband. He looked like he was fun to work with. I wish I would have had the opportunity," said Eads.

Twenty-one-year CHP veteran Brett Oswald was 47 years old. Oswald was waiting for a tow truck to remove an abandoned vehicle near Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County when a female motorist lost control of her Toyota Corolla and rear-ended Oswald's patrol car. Oswald was launched into the air and landed on top of the Corolla.

There was no immediate citation or arrest of the driver, who was not injured.

On June 11 in Redlands, CHP Motor Officer Thomas Coleman died during a traffic pursuit. Coleman, 33, was chasing a speeding car on his motorcycle when he was hit by a big rig. His motorcycle crashed and burst into flames.

Richard Perez, 20, of Redlands was later arrested and has pleaded not guilty to murder with a special allegation of causing a peace officer's death. He could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

A day before on June 9, CHP Officer Philip Ortiz was stopped on the 405 in Westwood ticketing a driver when a car drove onto the shoulder to get around traffic and struck him. Ortiz died of his injuries two weeks later.

"Any officer that gets hit or killed in the line of duty, it just breaks our hearts because it's not only our department, but it's the law enforcement community as a whole. We feel it," said Eads.

McGrory is survived by his wife, Kelly, and their three children, a 7-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 4 and 1.

Funeral services for McGrory have not been finalized.

The fifth fatality was a plane crash that was traffic-related. A CHP pilot went down and was killed. He was monitoring speeders on a highway in Imperial.

"If we see a car coming at us the only thing we can do is jump out of the way, but a lot of times we've seen that isn't always possible," said Officer CHP Officer Miguel Luevano. "I just ask people not to be selfish -- please slow down, please change lanes and look out for us."

Since January there has been a new law on the books that drivers must move over a lane or slow down if they see flashing lights. It's to protect the people responsible for those lights.

It's been shown that a driver's eyes are drawn to a CHP car or tow-truck on the side of the road, sober or drunk. And all too often, the vehicle follows the eyes.

Luevano says it's rare to see it in action in Los Angeles. A lot of people don't know about the law, or they ignore it.

"Basically what this law says is that whenever you approach either an emergency vehicle, a tow-truck or a Caltrans vehicle and they have their flashing lights, that's the sign to either slow down or to change lanes. It's the 'Move Over Law,'" said Luevano.

AP contributed to this report.

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