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Honor, praise, heartache for sheriff's sergeant killed in Lancaster

Honor, praise, heartache for sheriff's sergeant killed in Lancaster
L.A. County Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Owen. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

It was a seemingly routine burglary call, like so many Sgt. Steve Owen had answered in his 29 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

He had been through far worse, such as the time three years ago when he and other deputies faced off against an armed man who had taken a driver hostage.

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But on Wednesday, the routine call turned deadly for Owen.

The burly 53-year-old was fatally shot behind an apartment building near Antelope Valley College in Lancaster by the burglary suspect, who then commandeered Owen's patrol car and rammed it into another deputy's car.

Easily recognizable by his kind blue eyes and distinctive droopy mustache, Owen was a well-known presence in the Antelope Valley who was tough on criminals but also counseled them about how to better their lives. He had patrolled the rough urban neighborhoods, new subdivisions and rural lanes of the growing suburban community for more than two decades and lived in the area.

"When you first see him, here's this big guy coming toward you. But when he talks to you, he's very polite, sincere and genuine," said Chief Bobby Denham, who worked with Owen for many years. "The bad guys, they knew him — they knew that he was fair and that he would take the time to talk to them, and they also knew that if they were out there committing crimes that he would arrest them."

In his off time, Owen volunteered as a football coach and youth mentor. He also taught landlords and business owners how to reduce crime on their properties.

"He's probably the most well-known law enforcement officer in the Antelope Valley as a result of everything he's done here," Denham said.

If he went into a house of a victim and there wasn’t food on the table, he’d put food on that table.


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A passionate equestrian and father to two adult sons and one stepdaughter, Owen rode his horse in the Sheriff's Department's mounted detail. His wife, Tania, is a detective in the Sheriff's Department's arson and explosives detail.

He preferred working the streets to being promoted to a desk job. Colleagues described Owen as a mentor to generations of young sheriff's deputies.

"He had compassion, he was hardworking and he didn't back down from a fight," said Cmdr. Mike Parker, through tears. "But he used the minimum force, and if he went into a house of a victim and there wasn't food on the table, he'd put food on that table."

After hearing the news about Owen, Sheriff Jim McDonnell rushed back from Hawaii, where he had attended a conference and was planning a short vacation.

The burglary suspect, a 27-year-old whose name has not been released, was shot and slightly wounded by the other deputy at the scene, then arrested in a nearby backyard.

At Antelope Valley Hospital, dozens of sheriff's deputies gathered to pull for Owen and then to mourn his death.

Slain deputy mourned

Owen knew all those deputies on a first-name basis, said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris.

"You could not find a more beloved law enforcement officer in this community," Parris said.

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At a vigil attended by hundreds of people Wednesday night, Owen was remembered as a man who always greeted others with a smile and a handshake.

"As a deputy, he took special pride to make sure his community was served," said Darren Parker, former president of the county Human Relations Commission and a civil rights activist. "He truly believed in people."

Parker said Owen could be spotted at various community events such as toy drives and PTA meetings, and wanted to be a "solid positive example" for the youth in the Antelope Valley.

Owen and several other deputies were awarded the Sheriff's Department's Medal of Valor for the 2013 carjacking and kidnapping incident.

As the deputies in that case confronted the suspect, who was wearing a bulletproof vest and pointing a handgun at the hostage, Owen drew on his decades of experience. He told the deputies to try Tasering the suspect rather than shooting him.

After the first Taser shot to the suspect's arm, the hostage was able to escape. It took a second Taser shot to incapacitate the suspect.

"I would say he is somebody who is a cool head and able to remain calm even in the most challenging situations," Denham said.

Owen made the news again recently as one of three deputies who found a dehydrated and overheated 13-month-old girl strapped in a car seat in a Palmdale shed in the midsummer heat.

"He's remembered as a cop's cop. He loved police work, helping people, putting bad people in jail, protecting people and catching the bad guy," said Brian Moriguchi, president of the union that represents sheriff's supervisors.

On a ride-along with a Times reporter and photographer last year, Owen showed his trademark mixture of street smarts and friendliness.

In pursuit of several young men he believed were up to no good, he drove his car onto a lawn in an apartment complex. He then apologized about a broken sprinkler to the apartment manager, whom he knew by name.

Familiar with every nook and cranny of his sprawling territory, he pointed toward an impoverished rural area where, he said, people lived without running water.

As he drove in the direction of Lake Los Angeles, he mentioned Deputy Stephen Sorensen, killed there in 2003 while responding to a call in an isolated area where backup would have been miles away.

Owen "is a legend out there," said Capt. Steve Gross, who was Owen's partner from 1999 to 2005, when both men were detectives in Lancaster. "He is truly the hardest-working deputy I have ever known."

Twitter: @LAcrimes

Twitter: @cindychangLA

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

Twitter: @nicolesantacruz

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