Man fatally shot by Newport police after domestic violence call struggled with mental illness, friends say

It had been nearly three days since David Lollis watched as David Airth, his friend and neighbor of two decades, was fatally shot by a police officer in their sleepy Newport Shores neighborhood.

Lollis is still having trouble sleeping, he said Tuesday. Airth’s other neighbors, many of whom have lived in the neighborhood for decades, are still rattled by the deadly confrontation between police and a man they had known to be happy and kind.

“I walk by there several times a day,” Lollis said of the spot on 61st Street where Airth was shot. “It’s been tough. It’s not something you forget.”

Join the conversation on Facebook »

On Monday morning, purple flowers and a card left on Airth’s doorstep were the only tangible evidence of the tragic events that followed officers’ response to a report of domestic violence and a man with a knife.

Friends said Airth, 56, was an amiable man who always offered a friendly greeting to his neighbors as he strolled or biked through the neighborhood with his wife.

Airth barbecued on the beach with his neighbors, surfed and had a passion for Porsches.

“He’s the most mellow person I’ve ever met,” Lollis said. “I’ve never even heard him raise his voice.”

Airth owned Airth Appraisal, a real estate valuation business. He grew up in Seal Beach, attended Huntington Beach High School and Pepperdine University’s business school, according to his Facebook page.

Friends and neighbors said they recently learned that Airth struggled with bipolar disorder and may have been having trouble with his medication.

Leslie Allen, who has lived a few doors down from Airth’s home for 15 years, said he and his wife walked past her house earlier in the day Saturday. He waved and wished her a happy Easter, Allen said.

The man neighbors said they’d seen the past 20 years doesn’t align with the version of Airth whom police described Saturday night.

“In his right mind he never would have done this,” Allen said. “This was not him.”

Newport Beach police responded to the 200 block of 61st Street after receiving the domestic violence report at 9:11 p.m., authorities said.

A power outage had darkened the neighborhood.

Lollis said he was walking his golden Labrador when he was startled by a woman’s screams. He watched as Airth, wearing only underwear, ran out of his home gripping a large knife.

Airth’s wife stood on a neighbor’s patio with her head bloodied and cried, “No, David, no,” Lollis recalled.

As Airth headed for the neighbor’s house, Lollis said, a police officer arrived and told him to drop the knife.

Airth complied immediately and laid motionless on the pavement, according to police and neighbors.

Then, Lollis recalled, Airth lifted his head, his expression contorted into a frightening look, and said, “If you’re gonna take me, then take me.”

He jumped up, grabbed the knife and raised his arm as if preparing to throw it at the officer, Lollis said.

According to a statement from Newport Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella, the officer, “fearing for his safety and the safety of others ... fired at the suspect.”

Lollis turned away as four gunshots rang out.

“I had to stand there and watch a friend get shot, and my first thought was for the officer,” Lollis said. “He’s the one who has to live with it. He had no other choice.”

Airth died at 10:03 p.m. at Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, according to the Orange County coroner’s office.

Airth’s wife was taken to a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. A woman who answered the phone Monday at a business number listed for Airth said the family is making no statements at this time.

“This all came down to mental illness,” Lollis said. “It’s the most unfortunate thing to happen to the nicest guy.”

The Orange County district attorney’s office will investigate the case, as is typical for Newport Beach officer-involved shootings.

This is Newport’s first officer-involved shooting this year.

Before Saturday, the most recent one occurred in July 2014, when police shot and wounded Scott Jay Abraham, who authorities said had fired a .45-caliber handgun into the air outside his beachside condominium on the Balboa Peninsula.

Earlier in 2014, Newport police shot and killed Gerrit Vos at a 7-Eleven store. Officers said he had “charged at them with a sharp metal instrument in his hand.”

Before that, the department hadn’t had an officer-involved shooting since 2007, according to Manzella.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
53°