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LAPD mourns the loss of one of its own at downtown funeral

Law EnforcementHighway and Road DisastersTransportation DisastersDisasters and AccidentsCrime, Law and JusticeLos Angeles Police DepartmentJerry Brown

Hundreds of Los Angeles police officers gathered at a downtown cathedral Thursday for an emotional farewell to Nicholas Lee, the veteran officer killed last week in a Beverly Hill crash.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, along with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Chief Charlie Beck and officers from various law enforcement agencies were among those in attendance at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels as Lee, 40, was hailed as a devoted family man and dedicated officer.

"When I look out and see that sea of blue, I see his face," Beck said in an emotional address. "He was the quintessential LAPD officer.... He was one of us. He was the best of us."

Lee had been with the department for 16 years, working at the Van Nuys, Wilshire and Hollywood stations. Capt. Peter Zarcone, Lee's commanding officer at the Hollywood station, said he "exuded confidence and professionalism at all times."

"But more than being a great police officer, Nick was a great family man. That's what I'm most proud of," Zarcone said. "He had his priorities straight and he had a beautiful family."

The crash marked the department's first on-duty death in six years.

Officials from a range of public safety agencies attended the funeral, which closed off a portion of downtown Los Angeles to morning commuters. Some officers hailed from as far as San Diego County and Modesto, some from closer by, such as Beverly Hills, Torrance or South Pasadena.

Two fire trucks parked on Temple and Hill streets had their ladders stretched to the top, a large U.S. flag hanging between them.

Born Aug. 16, 1973 in Seoul, South Korea, Lee moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was 6 years old. After graduating from Cal State Fullerton in 1996, Lee joined the LAPD in 1998, and graduated from the academy the following year.

He married in 2001.

In addition to his parents and wife, Lee leaves behind two daughters, a brother and sister.

Lee was killed when the cruiser he was driving was struck about 8 a.m. Friday as a dump truck skidded down Loma Vista Drive near Robert Lane in Beverly Hills, leaving a long stretch of tire marks before it tipped on its side and spilled the small excavator it was carrying.

At the time of the crash, he and a rookie officer were crossing through the hilly section of Beverly Hills en route to an "unknown trouble" call.

The police car was mangled almost beyond recognition, with twisted, black-and-white chunks of the vehicle scattered in the street. 

Lee died at the scene. The second officer, just three months out of the academy, suffered a concussion.

The driver of the truck was hospitalized in serious condition.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Authorities have said their initial probe pointed to mechanical failure with the truck, perhaps involving its brakes. Officer Leland Tang of the California Highway Patrol — the agency investigating the crash — said a "huge question mark" remains about how the truck hit the cruiser: whether it side-swiped the patrol car or actually drove over it.

The impact was so intense, authorities said, that Lee's body was pushed from the driver's seat to the middle of the car. And the top of the cruiser had to be peeled off to remove the officers trapped inside.

Over the course of his LAPD career, Lee received 70 department commendations, having served at the Wilshire and Hollywood divisions. He earned one of them in 2010 for helping a stranded motorist by pushing her car two city blocks to a gas station, where he waited until help arrived.

During his address, Garcetti called Lee a "great man" who was a "critical cornerstone in the foundation of this city and its safety."

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 kate.mather@latimes.com

Twitter: @katemather

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Law EnforcementHighway and Road DisastersTransportation DisastersDisasters and AccidentsCrime, Law and JusticeLos Angeles Police DepartmentJerry Brown
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