Boy, 17, is arrested in slaying of Oceanside police officer

Times Staff Writer

A 17-year-old boy was arrested Thursday, and another teenager questioned, in the killing of a police officer during a routine traffic stop.

Officer Dan Bessant was the second policeman shot to death in this city in less than four years.

Oceanside Police Capt. David Heering declined to release the juveniles' names or explain their alleged roles in the shooting. He said they were picked up near the place where Bessant was killed Wednesday evening by a single bullet that went through his left arm, missing his armored vest before entering his chest. The officer was treated at the scene by paramedics and flown to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, where he died.

"It's just beyond belief," Heering said. "I don't understand it. The department is in a state of shock. We haven't gotten over the loss of Officer Zeppetella. The mood is somber."

Tony Zeppetella was 27 when he was gunned down June 13, 2003, by a gang member during a traffic stop. Adrian George Camacho, 31, was convicted of the shooting and sentenced to death. Zeppetella left a new wife and a 6-month-old son.

Bessant, 25, is survived by his wife and a 2-month-old son, but Heering declined to release additional information about family members, including the wife's name because, he said, they were in seclusion. Bessant had been a sworn officer for three years, Heering said.

He said the officer had arrived as backup for rookie Officer Karina Pina, 28, who had stopped a vehicle with six occupants for a minor traffic infraction at the intersection of Gold Drive and Arthur Avenue. Both officers were outside their patrol cars when they were fired on from behind, he said.

Pina, an officer for eight months, fired back and then called for medical assistance when she realized Bessant was wounded. The occupants in the car Pina had stopped had nothing to do with the shooting, Heering said. Pina was not injured.

Police have not uncovered a motive for the shooting, and Heering said they did not know whether it was the work of a sniper.

Heering looked grim when he met with reporters early Thursday after visiting the crime scene, where Bessant's police cruiser was still parked almost 12 hours after the shooting. Crime technicians were combing the area for evidence.

The neighborhood, near Camp Pendleton's southern boundary, is one of the city's older communities. Heering said the area was plagued by gangs but refused to say whether the two teenagers picked up by police were gang members.

He said the incident began at 6:18 p.m., when Pina initiated a traffic stop. Heering said she asked for backup but didn't say why. Bessant arrived at the scene four minutes later, Heering said. About 6:30 p.m. he was hit by one of several shots fired from about half a block away, Heering said.

He declined to say whether he suspected that the 17-year-old who was arrested was a shooter or how many shots were fired. He also refused to say what kind of weapon was used or whether any weapons had been recovered.

Officers from various departments in San Diego County sped to the scene after the shooting to assist in the hunt for suspects. Heering said witnesses in the car that was stopped by Pina directed officers to the 600 block of Arthur, and three residences were searched.

The 17-year-old was arrested about 3 a.m. Thursday, and the second juvenile was detained for questioning seven hours later.

Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood, a retired police officer, did not return calls for comment.

Contributions for Bessant's family can be made to the Dan Bessant Memorial Fund at any Washington Mutual bank branch.


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