When Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck arrived last weekend to the scene of a fatal collision that had taken the life of Officer Roberto Sanchez, it immediately brought back a painful memory.
On Aug. 2, 1979, Beck’s partner, Officer James J. Choquette, died in Beck’s arms. Choquette’s police car was broadsided by a drunk driver as Beck followed in another car on the way to a robbery call.
More than 30 years later, Beck said “it was dreadful” for him to arrive in Harbor City and see Sanchez’s mangled car.
“Roberto Sanchez's car was hit just like Jim's car – right in the door,” Beck said. “It was awful to see it again. It is something as young police officer you never forgot. The memory never goes away. It is always intense."
As chief, Beck said he must deal with many difficult situations, but nothing is harder than an officer's death.
On Friday, less than a week after Sanchez’s death, Beck found himself confronted with yet another department tragedy.
Det. Ernest L. Allen Sr., a 27-year veteran of the LAPD, was killed when a cement truck crashed into his pickup in Beverly Hills. Allen, who was assigned to the LAPD’s Southwest Division, was off-duty at the time.
He was killed on the same street where a fellow officer died in a similar crash two months ago. He was the fourth LAPD officer to die in a vehicle accident in the last two months.
Beck, who began his career with the department in 1977, said he had known Allen for more than two decades and called him a "beloved detective" who cared about the community he served.
In an interview with The Times on Saturday, Beck said all of the tragedy has taken a toll. He said he could not recall so many officers dying in separate incidents in such a short span of time.
"Every person has their own way of grieving,” he said. “We are all grieving. But here we have no opportunity to move beyond the first stage of grieving before we suffer another loss.”
Beck said each death reminds officers of the dangers of their job. "People start putting things in perspective," he said. Being an LAPD officer is like “becoming part of a close-knit family,” he continued, “and that makes the feeling of loss all the more intense."
During Beck's tenure in the department at least 55 officers have been killed in the line of duty.
The chief noted that just this week the department had held ceremonies to honor the 207 officers killed in the line of duty since the department's inception with a new commemorative wall.
Choquette, Beck's former partner, is one of those whose name is on the wall. He was also honored last week with a bench outside the South L.A. station where he was assigned at the time of his death.
"His children are grown now," Beck said.