Funeral services set for LAPD officer killed in Harbor City crash

Wednesday's funeral will mark LAPD's third in two months

For the third time in two months, funeral services for a Los Angeles police officer will be held at a downtown L.A. cathedral. 

The public funeral Mass for Officer Roberto Sanchez -- a six-year department veteran killed May 3 when an SUV struck his police cruiser in Harbor City -- will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

It will be followed by a procession to Good Shepherd Cemetery in Huntington Beach, where Sanchez will be buried.

A viewing and rosary will take place at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Santa Ana from 4 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

Sanchez, 32, is one of four LAPD officers killed in a traffic-related incident since early March. A fifth officer died of a heart attack while working at LAPD's Central Bureau on May 3, the same day Sanchez was killed.

Shortly before 3:45 a.m. that day, police said, Sanchez and his partner were following a Chevy Camaro speeding down Anaheim Street in Harbor City. The Camaro made a sharp U-turn, and the police cruiser did the same.

A Chevy Tahoe then broadsided the police car, killing Sanchez and breaking his partner's jaw. 

Los Angeles County prosecutors have charged the SUV's driver -- identified as Mynor Varela, 20 -- with murder and other felony charges in connection with the crash. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Varela knew the man being pursued and intentionally rammed the SUV into the police cruiser to help that friend.

Several law enforcement sources told The Times investigators determined that the Tahoe swerved across the center strip of the roadway and crashed into the police car. There were no signs the driver tried to brake, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak.

Varela pleaded not guilty to the charges last week. If convicted, prosecutors said, he faces life in state prison without parole.

His 19-year-old brother, Bryan Varela, was a passenger in the SUV at the time of the crash and also fled the scene, Beck said. Bryan was also arrested but has not been charged in connection with the case.

The LAPD is reeling from the recent string of deaths. Six days after Sanchez died, veteran Det. Ernest Allen was killed off-duty after an out-of-control concrete truck crashed into his pickup in Beverly Hills.

On March 7, LAPD Officer Nicholas Lee was killed on the same Beverly Hills road when another out-of-control truck struck his police cruiser. On April 5, longtime motorcycle Officer Chris Cortijo was struck in Sun Valley by a woman authorities allege was high on cocaine. He died four days later from his injuries.

"We are all grieving," Beck told The Times on Saturday. "But here we have no opportunity to move beyond the first stage of grieving before we suffer another loss."

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