By Kate Mather
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — For the third time in two months, Los Angeles police on Wednesday buried one of their own.
Once again, the sound of bagpipes echoed inside the massive Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. White-gloved officers again rolled a casket to the front of the downtown Los Angeles church. Others wiped tears from their eyes as they watched another widow take her seat.
But at Officer Roberto Sanchez's funeral, the grief arrived with a sense of anger.
"I keep asking, as you all do, when is enough, enough?" an emotional LAPD Chief Charlie Beck asked the crowd.
Sanchez, 32, who is one of four LAPD officers to die in traffic-related incidents since early March, was killed May 3, when an SUV struck his patrol car in Harbor City. A fifth officer died of a heart attack the same day.
Relatives of two of the other officers, Nicholas Lee and Chris Cortijo, were among those in attendance Wednesday.
"I think I speak for a city that is, of course, sad, but is also angry," Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "We are sick and tired of burying our city's finest."
But Sanchez's death stood apart, Beck said. The 20-year-old driver of the SUV was charged with murder in Sanchez's death; authorities allege that the driver intentionally rammed Sanchez's cruiser to help a friend whom the officers were following.
"Today is different. Today that grief is compounded by anger," Beck said. "Roberto didn't just die. He was murdered. And the people responsible will be brought to justice."
Friends and family — many of whom wore T-shirts with his photo and an image of his badge — remembered Sanchez for his sense of humor and love of food -- hot dogs, enchiladas and bean and cheese burritos from Del Taco. An only child, he came to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was 4.
Sanchez married his high school sweetheart, Sonia, almost six years ago — the two would have celebrated their anniversary next month. He was close to her family, a beloved Uncle Bob to 13 nieces and nephews, said his brother-in-law, Jessie Carbajal.
When Carbajal asked Sanchez to be his son's godfather, he said, he hadn't even finished the question before Sanchez said yes.
"Robert loved kids," Carbajal said. "Him and Sonia were looking forward to starting a family soon."
A love of airplanes initially led Sanchez to a job at John Wayne Airport, his relatives said. But becoming a police officer, they said, was his calling.
Sanchez joined the LAPD nearly six years ago, spending two years assigned to the Harbor Division. Relatives said he dreamed of becoming a police officer — as a boy he played with a toy police car his father bought him, making siren noises as he zoomed it across the floor
His family supported his dream, his wife acting like "his drill sergeant when he was training," relative Noel Perez said. When he was accepted to the LAPD, he said, they celebrated: "His dreams and aspirations came true."
"He loved being a police officer," Carbajal said. "Put in long hours at various shifts, and he never complained about it. He was just so proud of serving the public and doing the dream job he always wanted."
Sanchez was often asked about the risks of his job, Perez said. His answer was the same: If it's your time, then it's your time. You don't have that control.
Beck spoke of another officer who nearly lost his life Sunday, a 30-year department veteran who collapsed from a heart attack. He died once, Beck said, but was resuscitated. He died a second time, and the same thing happened. Then a third.
"He lives today. It was a miracle," Beck said, his voice wavering. "I take that as a sign that God ... has enough Los Angeles police officers for whatever that mission is. And I pray that I am right."
Outside the cathedral, Sanchez's partner -- who suffered a broken jaw in the crash — was among those who escorted his casket to a hearse. Several officers came to shake his hand, expressing condolences over the loss of his friend.
Nearby, an officer stood next to a police car, waiting for the funeral procession to begin. Another officer walked over.
The two embraced, their arms locking into a long hug.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 Los Angeles Times