L.A. deputy on stakeout killed when car hits his vehicle

Raul Gama died on the 20th anniversary of his graduation from the sheriff's academy.

By Stuart Pfeifer
Los Angeles Times
Officer Down: Deputy Sheriff Raul V. Gama

LOS ANGELES, Ca. — A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was killed Tuesday when a vehicle crashed into his parked minivan during a surveillance assignment in North Hollywood, a Los Angeles police spokesman said.

Deputy Raul Gama was parked at Oxnard Street and Rhodes Avenue about 8:55 a.m. when the sport utility vehicle struck his minivan, said Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Kevin Maiberger. The deputy was alone.

Gama, 43, of Chino, was taken to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he was pronounced dead, Maiberger said. The deputy's wife, Sandra, was airlifted by a sheriff's helicopter from the Chino airport to the hospital so that she could be with her husband. The deputy has four children.

More than 100 fellow deputies and department executives, including Sheriff Lee Baca, traveled to the hospital to grieve Tuesday morning. A few years earlier, Baca had awarded Gama the department's medal of valor for helping to rescue a family in Commerce after a derailed train struck their home in 2003.

The 18-year-old driver whose Honda Element struck the deputy's minivan was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The suspect, who was identified as Luis Yanez of San Fernando, was driving west on Oxnard Street when his SUV struck the deputy's minivan from behind, Los Angeles Police Det. Bill Bustos said.

Gama was killed on the 20th anniversary of his graduation from the sheriff's academy. He was assigned to Cargo CATs, a team that investigates cargo thefts throughout Southern California. At the time of the crash, he and other deputies, who were stationed elsewhere in the neighborhood, were observing a man suspected of receiving stolen telephones.

Fellow deputies in unmarked vehicles heard the crash and the sirens but did not realize for several minutes that one of their own had been injured, said Sgt. Rod Johnson, who was Gama's supervisor.

Colleagues said Gama was a fun-loving family man who spent the bulk of his free time with his wife and children, often going on camping trips in a motor home. The family's last camping trip was at the beach in Chula Vista.

"I can't remember a time he came in the office without a smile on his face," Johnson said.

Gama was born and raised in Santa Monica. As a detective, he had won praise for his ability to get crime suspects to talk to him.

"If there was an interview that needed to be done, he was always the one who was asked. He could sympathize with people and get them to open up," Johnson said. "He just had that knack. He could get people to talk to him."

Baca spoke about the department's loss during an emotional news conference at department headquarters in Monterey Park.

"Deputy Gama certainly was a tremendous leader," Baca said. "We are grieving here at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department."

The sheriff said he was moved Tuesday by a conversation with Gama's wife. She told him that the deputy had spoken to her about the possibility that he could be killed in the line of duty.

"He said, 'If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't change anything. I love what I do,' " Baca said.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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