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
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
“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
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.”
The tall, trim, retired university professor was sworn in as a
level three reserve officer after completing the Orange County
“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
County Sheriff’s Academy on Sept. 11, 2001 and graduated about six
“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
“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
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
“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
* BARBARA DIAMOND is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline
Pilot. She may be reached at 494-4321.