Armed with physical descriptions provided by two eyewitnesses, law enforcement officials on Tuesday launched an intense hunt for a suspect in the first shooting death of a police officer in the seaside community of Manhattan Beach.
Officer Martin Ganz, 29, died late Monday after being gunned down by a motorist he had pulled over outside the Manhattan Village shopping mall.
The suspect, authorities said, also pointed his semiautomatic weapon at Ganz's 13-year-old nephew, who was riding in Ganz's car--but did not pull the trigger.
The killing underscored the increasingly dangerous nature of one of the most common police procedures: the traffic stop. At least 15 times in the past five years, Southland police officers have been killed or wounded by motorists they had pulled over.
In this case, authorities said, the suspect opened fire as Ganz approached the door of his car. When Ganz tried to retreat behind his patrol car, the suspect followed the officer on foot and fired more shots.
Ganz, a Garden Grove native who had served on the 59-member Manhattan Beach force since 1989, was struck by at least three bullets. Ganz was wearing a bulletproof vest, but at least two of the bullets hit him above the vest.
The suspect was described by Ganz's nephew and a second witness as a dark-haired, somewhat heavyset Asian man in his late 20s or early 30s, driving a small gray or silver hatchback car. The two provided police with information for sketches of the suspect that were very similar.
Although Manhattan Beach police normally radio in the license number of vehicles they have stopped, Ganz did not do so in this case, according to sheriff's spokesman Robert Stoneman. The sheriff's homicide bureau is handling the investigation for the community's small police force.
"There was no perception of danger, we don't think," said Sheriff's Sgt. Stoneman. "(But) the word routine shouldn't really be in the vocabulary anymore."
Ganz, who normally worked as a motorcycle traffic officer, was serving on a holiday drunk-driving abatement patrol when he stopped the suspect, who was headed north on Sepulveda Boulevard shortly after 11 p.m., authorities said.
Using a loudspeaker in his car, Ganz instructed the man to pull over into the parking lot of the mall. After the shooting, Ganz's nephew, whose name was not released by authorities, called for help on the police radio. Ganz was pronounced dead shortly before midnight at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he was taken by fire paramedics.
Several other hospitals are much nearer to the shooting scene, but Stoneman said Ganz was taken to Harbor-UCLA because it was the closest medical facility with a trauma center.
Stoneman said it was unclear whether Ganz was wounded in the initial burst of gunfire through the suspect's open car window or hit after he retreated toward his police car.
Also unclear, Stoneman said, was why Ganz had pulled over the motorist and why the officer did not return fire. His service revolver was found on the ground near him.
Tuesday morning, a dozen wreaths and bouquets from Ganz's co-workers and friends marked the spot outside a Bank of America office where the shooting occurred.
A mile or so south, at the Pacific Elementary School where Ganz served as a DARE anti-drug program officer, school officials posted a message on the outdoor marquee that read: "You're still in our hearts, Officer Ganz."
"He was real nice, he was real considerate and he taught us well," said Curtis Holliman, 13, who took a DARE course taught by Ganz earlier this year. "He (went) out every day and (risked) his life for us--people he doesn't even know."
Ironically, Ganz, who is survived by his mother and five sisters, had missed a pair of DARE sessions last spring because a close friend, Garden Grove Officer Howard E. Dallies Jr., was killed in a similar shooting.
When Ganz finally returned to the classroom, Holliman said, "his eyes were real red. He told the students being a police officer "was a good job, but not always a safe job."
Dallies was shot at close range by a motorcyclist he had pulled over. No suspect has yet been arrested in the case.
Dallies' widow, Mary, a police dispatcher in Irvine, recalled Tuesday that Ganz had persuaded her to join the Police Explorer club when the two were teen-agers growing up in Garden Grove.
"It's really bizarre. What are the chances of it happening to me again? The percentages are really hitting me in the face," said Dallies, the mother of two young sons. "It's just hard to make it through it."
Ganz graduated from Garden Grove High School in 1982. Even then, he knew he wanted a career in law enforcement, she said.
"He had his mind set on what he wanted to do--he wanted to be a cop," she said. "He's the one that started me in the Police Explorer program. We were in classes together. We were always talking about the similarities in what we wanted to do."
Dennis Ray Martin, president of the National Assn. of Chiefs of Police, said Tuesday that traffic stops are becoming increasingly dangerous because more criminals carry guns and are under the influence of drugs and have a "different attitude toward police."
"There is a level of hostility toward police officers today that we've never seen before," Martin said. "People shoot at police today and don't seem to fear the consequences anymore. . . . The police officer is the most visible symbol of authority, and it seems that . . . he's getting blamed for all the poverty, all the joblessness, all the problems in society."
There were more than 90,000 assaults against police officers in the nation last year according to National Institute of Justice statistics. The majority of the assaults occurred during traffic stops.
"Things are so violent on the streets today that no traffic stop is routine anymore," said Bob Ausmus, an instructor at the Rio Hondo Police Academy. "I pound into the recruits' heads that they can never get complacent on a traffic stop and that they have to always be on guard, always have to be alert, always have to be aware of their surroundings."
Manhattan Beach Police Capt. Robert Cashion said his officers are taught that "normally it is routine when making a traffic stop to radio in the location and the license number of the vehicle."
"The lessons are that awareness of officer safety must be heightened and maintained," Cashion said. "It's a tragic loss. Martin is, was, a very professional officer.
"He was energetic, he was enthusiastic, he loved kids."
Cashion said Ganz's nephew was in the police car under the auspices of a longstanding Manhattan Beach Police Department ride-along program. Youngsters under the age of 18 qualify for ride-alongs with the written permission of their parents, he said.
Cashion, who described the death as similar to the loss of an immediate family member, said two psychologists were providing grief counseling for members of the close-knit Police Department. Routine patrol duties were being covered by other South Bay police departments.
Ganz was described Tuesday as an aggressive but conscientious officer by his colleagues. That opinion was echoed by an attorney who represented many people who had been arrested for drunk driving by the former Marine Corps Reserve officer.
Attorney Mylies L. Berman said Ganz was "probably the most active (driving under the influence) enforcement officer I've ever met." He added that Ganz was a "good guy doing his job."
Tuesday afternoon, a 24-hour hot line was opened for those who have information about the shooting of Ganz. The number is (310) 545-5621, extension 251 or 254.
Times staff writers Miles Corwin and Jodi Wilgoren contributed to this report