Suspect in off-duty San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy’s death is a ‘career criminal,’ authorities say
Surveillance video shows an altercation that fatally injured a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy after a minor traffic collision on Sunday.
A convicted felon suspected of fatally assaulting a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy after a minor off-duty crash on New Year’s Eve has been charged with murder, authorities said Wednesday.
The deputy, Lawrence “Larry” Falce, 70, was involved in a collision Sunday with Alonzo Leron Smith, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at an afternoon news conference. Smith punched Falce in the head, knocking him unconscious, Burguan said.
The deputy never woke up and died at a hospital after being removed from life support just after 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Smith, 30, of San Bernardino has a lengthy criminal history. San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Michael Ramos said he would seek sentencing enhancements because of Smith’s previous convictions.
“This person needs to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Ramos said. “We need to get this career criminal off the streets who’s been in prisons and jails ever since he was able to be tried as an adult.”
Ramos said Smith had served time in state prison for selling marijuana and for gang activity. Court records show myriad past charges, including extortion, robbery and criminal street gang participation.
Smith pleaded not guilty to murder on Wednesday, records show.
Falce was driving his red Chevrolet pickup through the intersection of Kendall Drive and University Parkway in San Bernardino on Sunday when he “stopped or had applied his brakes” to avoid hitting a dog in the roadway, Burguan said.
Smith was driving a 2002 Ford Explorer behind the off-duty deputy and rear-ended his vehicle, according to police.
The men pulled over to the curb and, “for reasons that are unknown,” Smith punched Falce once in the face, Burguan said.
Grainy surveillance video from a nearby business shows a man swinging his arm back and striking Falce, who falls to the ground. The man got back in his sport-utility vehicle; the video shows apparent witnesses unsuccessfully trying to stop him from leaving. One driver even tried to ram his vehicle from behind to try to prevent him from driving off, authorities said.
Smith was arrested later that night at a girlfriend’s residence in San Bernardino after witnesses provided police with descriptions of the attacker, his vehicle and license plate number, Burguan said.
At one point, Smith’s brother was arrested because his name was associated with the vehicle and because he matched witness descriptions, Burguan said.
Police, Burguan said, are trying to determine whether Falce and Smith knew each other. Falce was a 36-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, and Smith had been arrested by San Bernardino police and sheriff’s deputies numerous times, authorities said.
At Wednesday’s news conference, the district attorney decried legislative efforts to reduce penalties for nonviolent drug crimes. Ramos predicted that his attempt to seek a prior-conviction sentencing enhancement for Smith would be thwarted because people would argue his previous convictions were nonviolent felonies. Ramos blamed “all the liberals up in Sacramento.”
“I am sick of … having to deal with these people, especially when they take the life of one of our community members, our deputy. And we’re going to fight like hell to make sure that enhancement sticks,” he said.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Falce “should be remembered as an honorable man who dedicated his entire adult life to his country.” Falce, an Army veteran, worked patrol at the department’s Central Station for 32 years and had coordinated a search and rescue team for several years.
McMahon said he spoke this week with a relatively new janitor in the department who was devastated by news of Falce’s death. The janitor saw the deputy getting coffee every morning and had asked Falce why, at his age, he was still driving a patrol car.
“That’s because I love doing what I do,” McMahon said Falce told the janitor.
“He was a very productive, proactive deputy sheriff that loved his job and was committed to helping the citizens of this county,” McMahon said.
Times editorial library director Cary Schneider contributed to this report.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.