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Nothing reserve about him

Barbara Diamond

Ted Brunner wears two hats -- well, really two shirts -- at the

Laguna Beach Police Department.

Brunner, 68, and his wife, Lucy, are members of the volunteer

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Citizens on Patrol program. When he is out on the streets as a

volunteer, he wears the light blue shirt of the Cop participants. But

when he puts on the dark blue shirt of a reserve officer, it’s a

different ballgame.

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“As a COP volunteer, you do foot and car patrols, vacation home

checks and traffic control,” Brunner said. “When I put on that dark

blue shirt and strap on my gun, my major assignment is hit-and-run

investigations.”

He loves it.

“I think it is unconscionable to damage someone else’s property

and then run away,” Brunner said. “I feel so sorry for the victims

who are left holding the bag.”

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The tall, trim, retired university professor was sworn in as a

level three reserve officer after completing the Orange County

Sheriff’s Academy.

“When Lucy and I retired -- both of us were professors of classic

languages and literature at Irvine -- we decided we had had good

careers, good lives, good everything and that it was pay-back time,”

Brunner said. “The COP program was one of the options.”

Brunner joined the COP program in 2001. He entered the Orange

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County Sheriff’s Academy on Sept. 11, 2001 and graduated about six

months later.

“Captain Paul Workman asked if I might be interested in

investigating misdemeanor hit and run accidents -- the ones that

involve property, not injuries or fatalities,” Brunner said. “I

couldn’t do it as a COP volunteer.”

Brunner and the police department’s four motorcycle officers

conduct the hit-and-run investigations.

“Officer (Robert) Van Gorder trained me,” Brunner said. “I have

nine or 10 cases right now. The volume goes up in the summer. In

April and May, I didn’t have any cases.”

Summer brings more hit-and-run reports because there is more

traffic, Brunner said. Bad weather and holidays also account for a

higher number of reports.

“Holiday drinking and bad weather is an especially bad

combination,” he said.

Reports are taken at the scene of a hit-and-run accident. The

reports go to Sgt. Doris Higgins, who assigns the investigation.

“When I get the report, I study it to see how much evidence there

is,” Brunner said. “My mind is trained to function in a certain way.”

As a scholar and student of Greek and Latin language and

literature, Brunner is adept at textural analysis -- deduction from

written documents. It is a valuable skill when reading hit-and-run

reports, some of which contain no evidence and no witnesses.

Ideally, the report would contain information that a rear mirror

from a suspect vehicle was found in the street and would include the

make, model, color and license plate number of the vehicle, as well

as paint transfers.

That vehicle’s owner is a piece of cake to trace. However, the

investigation may not be over -- he owner is not necessarily the

driver involved in the accident or at least can’t immediately be

proved to be the driver.

“I suspect many hit-and-run drivers flee because they have been

drinking and don’t want to take a sobriety test,” Brunner said.

“Other may flee because they have no valid driver’s license or no

insurance.”

“A third category is the people who just don’t care about others,”

Brunner said. “Some -- perhaps those who have sobered up -- come in

the next morning, but at least they felt something for the people who

suffered damage.”

Victims can help themselves by trying to get as much accurate

information about the suspect vehicle and driver as possible, Brunner

said. In fact, anyone who sees something suspicious should write down

as much information as possible there and then and call it in to the

Laguna Beach Police Department at 497-0701, Ext. 0.

Despite Brunner’s best efforts, hit and run accidents aren’t

solved overnight.

“On balance, 80% of my time in hit-and-run investigations is spent

on the telephone, talking to victims and to witnesses,” Brunner said.

“What’s nice about Ted is that he enjoys doing the

investigations,” Workman said. “A lot of them are time consuming and

he taking a burden off of the motorcycle officers that can be out

looking for hazardous conditions and traffic violators or

investigating the really bad hit-and-runs like the (still unsolved)

one on Rosa Boheur.

“He’s very intelligent and he is really performing a community

service.”

* BARBARA DIAMOND is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline

Pilot. She may be reached at 494-4321.


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