Whether he was gliding through a zip line course with his wife in Mexico or hopping onto his motorcycle outside the California Highway Patrol’s Riverside station, Andre Moye was often wearing an infectious smile.
Moye, 34, was one year into his “dream job” as a motorcycle cop when he stopped Aaron Luther on the 215 Freeway in Riverside Monday evening, friends said.
Luther’s relatives said the 49-year-old convicted felon had been battling depression recently. His father called him a “desperate man.”
At some point during the stop, Moye decided to impound Luther’s car. Luther reached for a rifle.
When the shooting ended, Moye and Luther had been mortally wounded, while two other CHP officers had been injured, leaving law enforcement officials to plan the third funeral for a police officer in Southern California in the past two months.
“This bright light is gone now,” said Officer Melanie Weaver, a director with the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen who knew Moye. “It’s a tragic loss, not just for the Highway Patrol, but for the state of California.”
A day after the gun battle, Moye’s fellow officers and Luther’s family were struggling to understand what led to the bloody confrontation.
Law enforcement officials would not say why Moye chose to stop Luther or impound his car and declined to speculate on a motive in the shooting. Luther’s wife told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that her husband called her shortly after he was pulled over, panicked about the possibility of going to prison.
“Maybe it was suicide by cop. He wasn’t out to kill cops,” McKenzie Luther told the newspaper, adding that she felt sorry for Moye’s family.
She did not respond to a request for comment from The Times. Luther’s father, Dennis, also told reporters on Tuesday that he believed his son was battling depression and had become suicidal.
Luther had an extensive criminal record. Court records show he pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder and two counts of burglary in Los Angeles County in 1994. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and granted parole in 2004, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The Beaumont, Calif., resident had also been convicted of disturbing the peace, vandalism, battery, stalking, unlawful possession of a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon and corporal injury on a spouse in the past, officials said.
Investigators described the weapon that Luther used in the firefight as a rifle. A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told The Times Luther was armed with an “AR-15 style rifle.”
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the case candidly. Luther would not have been able to possess a firearm under California law because of his criminal record.
Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz said the gun battle was “long and horrific,” leaving investigators with multiple crime scenes to comb through. Moye was airlifted to a hospital in Moreno Valley after the shootout, where he was pronounced dead. The two other CHP officers wounded in the shootout are expected to recover, said Inland Division Chief Bill Dance.
Local investigators initially believed Luther had ties to the Vagos motorcycle gang, one of the nation’s largest and most dangerous outlaw biker organizations, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said. But that later proved to be false. Still, fear over the Vagos’ potential involvement led police to station a large contingent of officers outside the hospital where the wounded officers were being treated.
Those who worked alongside Moye said he was an avid dirt biker who had competed in motocross events and long dreamed of patrolling California as a motorcycle cop. Weaver said he was “the kind of guy that you’re always happy to see at work. He was always happy to be here.”
Capt. John Tyler, who oversees the Riverside station, said Moye could often be found polishing his department-issue Harley-Davidson in the back of the building. Despite only serving as a motor officer for a year, Tyler said Moye had already become a regular presence at community events and would often display his precise riding skill to onlookers.
“He was very charismatic,” Tyler said. “He was a true hero.”
The Riverside station had experienced tragedy only months earlier, when veteran Sgt. Steve Licon was struck and killed by a DUI suspect. As Licon succumbed to his injuries, Moye helped chase down and capture the man suspected in his killing, according to Officer Ivan Sandoval, who graduated from the highway patrol’s training academy alongside Moye.
“He was a phenomenal role model in the academy for the younger guys,” Sandoval said
Moye is survived by his wife, Sara, his parents, two brothers, two sisters and a large extended family, Dance said. The slain officer also had an affinity for travel, smiling in pictures alongside his wife seated in kayaks or overlooking tropical locales, according to postings on their social media accounts.
Videos posted to his YouTube channel show him and his wife zip lining and snorkeling during a 2014 vacation in the Riviera Maya and riding wave runners through the canyons at Lake Powell a year later. In one video, Moye grins while suspended on a zip line high above the trees in Mexico.
The two had been married for several years, Weaver said. Officer Ramon Duran, who also worked alongside Moye, said the couple had recently purchased a home in the area.
Moye was the third officer killed during what has been a brutal summer for Southern California’s law enforcement community. On June 12, a man from Utah capped off a days-long string of robberies and assaults by shooting Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Solano in the head in Alhambra. Solano had been off-duty and a motive in the killing remains unclear.
Last month, Los Angeles Police Department officer Juan Jose Diaz was gunned down while off-duty in Lincoln Heights after he confronted a man tagging a wall near a taco stand. A group of suspected gang members soon approached Diaz, and a man brandishing a weapon opened fire on the officer.
A funeral was held for Diaz in downtown Los Angeles Monday morning, less than 12 hours before Moye was killed 60 miles away in Riverside.
“I simply can’t make sense of what is going on,” tweeted Josh Rubenstein, the LAPD’s chief spokesman. “I started my day with a flag draped coffin. ... I am ending my day with a flag draped coffin.”