By Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles police officer killed in a motorcycle accident last week had been drinking at a bar on the department's training academy campus the night he died and had a blood-alcohol level "well over" the legal limit, a police official said Wednesday.
After the early-morning crash Dec. 3, department officials launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Officer Kenneth Aragon's death in an effort to determine whether he was plied with too much alcohol by academy bartenders or got drunk at another location, said LAPD Cmdr. David Doan, who is overseeing the inquiry.
Department officials are also taking a broader look at the long-running tradition of officers drinking at the academy. They have ordered bar staff to undergo retraining on laws on serving alcohol, and put them on notice that undercover officers would be performing compliance checks in the future, Doan said.
Aragon, a 19-year veteran of the department and father of five, spent several hours drinking and singing karaoke with other officers and guests in a banquet room outfitted with a bar on the upper floor of the academy's main building, Doan said. They had gathered for 'payday Wednesday,' an unofficial but regular event held every other week at the idyllic Elysian Park campus to celebrate their latest paycheck.
The 47-year-old officer left the academy about 12:30 a.m. About 90 minutes later, , he crashed his motorcycle while driving north on Fletcher Drive, less than three miles from the academy. Investigators, Doan said, have not yet learned where Aragon went during the unaccounted time, and he left open the possibility that the officer had gone to another bar before the crash.
Regardless, police are working to determine how much Aragon drank at the academy. Investigators are reviewing video footage from a security camera in the bar and questioning the two bartenders working that night and officers who were drinking with Aragon, Doan said. It is a misdemeanor crime in California to serve alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated.
When Aragon crashed, Doan said, he was "certainly under the influence" and "well over the legal limit." He declined to provide the results of blood-alcohol tests performed at the hospital where Aragon was pronounced dead.
The bar -- like most of the academy facilities -- is run by the Los Angeles Revolver and Athletic Club, a tax-exempt organization that is separate from the department and accepts only LAPD employees as members. Except for the payday parties, the bar is typically open only for officer retirement parties and similar catered events.
Calls to members of the club's management were not returned.
Beyond the details of Aragon's death, Doan said investigators are examining whether bartenders at the academy are properly licensed. Department officials are also "looking at whether there is adequate oversight" of the Wednesday-night gatherings.
Payday Wednesdays hold a particularly infamous spot in LAPD lore. Older officers tell sordid stories of wild, booze-fueled gatherings in the 1970s and '80s, at which officers and female guests had sex in the academy's garden. One well-known legend holds that a guardrail in front of a home set on a sharp turn in the road leading out of the academy was installed after several drunk officers failed to navigate the bend. Several officers say academy gatherings are much more staid today.
Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times