Nancy Wride, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
A Long Beach police officer struck a pedestrian with his patrol car early Tuesday, killing a mother of five and caterer who had for years helped recovering addicts by giving them work and encouragement.
Kathryn Stephens, 39, died at the scene.
She was the sister-in-law of the secretary at the station where the officer worked.
Police said the officer was a 27-year veteran but did not identify him.
An investigation has been launched.
Stephens' family and colleagues said she had a catering business called Kate's Kitchen at Long Beach's First United Methodist Church, and she often hired people from the Flossie Lewis Recovery Center.
She had gained her sobriety there 15 years earlier, program director Sister Sheila Lynch said, and went back every week to encourage others.
Stephens, who lived in Lakewood, had worked late Monday and stayed at a friend's home, said her sister-in-law, Nikki Poling.
Poling was at her desk Tuesday morning at the East Division when she heard there had been a crash.
When the officer came in to the station nearly six hours later, she said she overheard him say, "I hit someone. I'm the one who hit someone."
"He was distraught," Poling recalled Tuesday night. "But I didn't know he'd hit Kate until I was at lunch with my husband."
Stephens' oldest son, Michael, 22, worked for the Polings installing pools and called his uncle frantically to say he had to rush home for what he was told was a family emergency.
He was met by a neighbor, Poling said.
Soon after, he called back in tears and said, "My mom's dead."
Poling said Stephens was a wonderful mother, who had custody of her children but remained amicable with their schoolteacher father, John, from whom she was separated. Besides Michael, she is survived by her daughter Samantha, 21, and three sons, 9, 13 and 14.
"Michael had to get them ready for school this morning on his own," Poling said. "I just keep thinking their life has just suddenly changed. And she was such a wonderful person."
She added, "She was probably up that early to get home and get the boys ready for school."
Police said the accident occurred about 6:30 a.m., when it was still dark, and the patrolman was near the end of his shift.
The officer was not en route to a call and was driving "normally," Sgt. David Cannan said.
Stephens, who was crossing Ocean Boulevard, apparently was tossed into the windshield. It was cracked and concave on the driver's side.
For five hours, the body lay draped in the middle of Ocean, the damaged squad car nearby.
What appeared to be a purse was the only personal item on the road, which fronts the bluff overlooking the ocean just west of the heart of Belmont Shore.
Stephens was hit at Ocean and 36th Place in a long stretch between Termino and Redondo avenues that has no crosswalks. Officials shut down a major commuter corridor from Belmont Shore to downtown Long Beach and to the Long Beach Freeway.
The officer was not injured, Officer Juan Gomez said.
Poling declined to provide the officer's name but called him "a kind and well-respected officer who has never been in trouble. Everybody liked him."
At the Flossie Lewis Recovery Center near downtown Long Beach, several people were saddened to hear of the death of the woman they knew as Kate.
"She catered all of our Christmas parties," said Lynch, who added that Stephens had recently taken a job at Action Foods in Downey or Lakewood to earn more money.
"She always donated food. And she was on our board [of directors] in the past. She also was on the board of House of Hope in San Pedro. She gave a lot.... She was a great woman."
Anyone who witnessed the accident is asked to call Det. Dave Lauro at (562) 570-7355.
Calif. officer hits and kills pedestrian