A service to celebrate the life of late Costa Mesa fire Capt Mike Kreza drew more than 1,300 friends, family members and fire and law enforcement officials from across the region to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest on Friday morning.
“He was the definition of what a professional firefighter is all about,” Costa Mesa Fire Chief Dan Stefano said of the 18-year Fire & Rescue Department veteran and father of three young girls.
Kreza, 44, of Rancho Santa Margarita, died Nov. 5 of injuries he suffered two days earlier when hit by a van while riding his bicycle in Mission Viejo in preparation for a triathlon in Arizona. He is survived by his wife, Shanna, and daughters Kaylie, 11, Layla, 9, and Audrey, 7.
The driver of the van, Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, of Mission Viejo, is suspected of being under the influence of drugs and has been charged with murder.
“Our family memories are going to live forever,” Shanna Kreza said in a letter to her late husband read aloud during the service by friend Tiare Brock. “You are still here, you are in each of the three beautiful girls you gave me.”
“You were the heart of our family,” Layla read from her own letter to her father, describing him as “kind, loving, strong and fierce.”
Mike Kreza was based at Costa Mesa Fire Station 6 near South Coast Plaza. While working at the station, which his colleagues described as one of Costa Mesa’s busiest, Kreza studied for and obtained a bachelor’s degree and real estate license.
The two-hour service, which included an honor guard and a bagpipes and drums ensemble, opened and concluded with a flag procession led by Stefano.
At the end of the service, Stefano presented Shanna Kreza with an American flag in honor of her husband. Costa Mesa fire Capt. Rob Gagne, along with engineer Steve Cathey, Capt. Brent Turner and firefighter Jeremy Jimenez, presented Kreza’s helmet to his family.
Retired Costa Mesa firefighter and color guard member Will Moss rang the fire department’s bell, signaling Kreza’s final call.
Stefano made a promise to the departed captain: “We’ll take it from here.”
The service “really was exemplary of their life,” said Rancho Santa Margarita resident Nancy Norris, whose 10-year-old daughter Kristen has participated in theater productions of “Annie” and “Seussical” with Kaylie Kreza.
“He was always there for his family and kids,” Norris said of Mike Kreza. “They are the most kind, open, generous family.”
Kreza grew up in Irvine and attended Irvine High School and Santa Ana College. He was a paramedic and firefighter in Seattle, Las Vegas and Big Bear before joining Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue.
His aunt Bobbie Kimball remembers him saying “I won the lottery” when he shared the news of going to Costa Mesa in 2000.
Four members of the Big Bear Fire Department attended the memorial service.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Big Bear firefighter and paramedic Brendon Medeck, reflecting on the loss of the veteran firefighter.
Medeck said he didn’t know Kreza personally but was moved by the tributes from Kreza’s longtime partners at the Costa Mesa station.
Medeck said the strong showing of solidarity from agencies across the region gave him “an awesome feeling.”
Outside fire agencies covered duties in Costa Mesa so members of the Costa Mesa fire department could attend the service, the department said.
Mourners gathered outside the Saddleback Church sanctuary to write notes and memories in books in front of a wall of Kreza family photos.
The department asked that instead of flowers and gifts, donations be made to the following accounts established for the Kreza family: