Editor’s note: Part Three of a four-part series
In honor of National Police Week (May 15-21), we’re sharing the stories of the 53 police officers and deputies who have given their lives serving Orange County.
This installment covers the years 1975 through 1988. During that time, four officers were killed by gunfire. Three were killed in helicopter crashes, two were killed by drunk drivers and one died in a traffic collision.
All of the pictures are from the Orange County Peace Officer Memorial Site.
On June 29, 1975, Officer Hatch was struck and killed by a drunk driver. He was on his way to briefing from his home when he stopped to extinguish a car fire on the 91 Freeway at the Beach Boulevard exit in Buena Park. He was struck from behind by a drunk driver as he was placing his fire extinguisher in his trunk. He was transported to the hospital but succumbed to his injuries the next day. Officer Hatch left behind his parents, Paul and Dorothy Hatch, his wife, Ruth, and his daughter, Audrey, who was only 2 at the time of his death. He was laid to rest on his birthday. He was 23.
Officer Hatch was the first Fullerton Police officer killed in the line of duty. In 2015, a portion of the 91 Freeway was named in his honor.
Please watch this moving tribute video as Officer Hatch’s family is interviewed.
Officer Gary Nelson died Aug. 15, 1975 in a helicopter accident while assisting detectives during a surveillance operation of a known narcotics dealer. The crash occurred in a rugged area near Idyllwild. Officer Robert DePartee was an observer in the helicopter and was seriously injured. He recovered and later returned to serve as a helicopter pilot.
Officer Nelson had been employed with the Anaheim Police Department for 11 years, and was survived by his wife, son and daughter.
Sgt. Donald J. Sowma was shot and killed Nov. 19, 1976. Sgt. Sowma, along with other officers, had responded to a silent burglar alarm. He was shot while searching the premises. The suspect was later apprehended.
Sgt. Sowma was survived by his wife, Colleen Ann Sheldon, and four children, Michael Robert, Donald Jack Jr., Donna Marie and James Patrick. They were age 20 years to 13 years at the time of his death.
Sgt. Sowma is the only Cypress Police officer to have died in the line of duty. The suspect was apprehended after barricading himself and later was sentenced to life in prison.
A street was named in his honor, Sowma Way, in the City of Cypress.
On Nov. 12, 1977, Officer Dan Hale, a two-year veteran of the Santa Ana Police Department, responded to a call of a burglary in progress. Officer Hale entered the residence and was subsequently shot and killed by the suspects in a gun battle that resulted in the death of both suspects.
Officer Hale was 31 when he was killed. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and a son. He had previously served with the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police before transferring to Santa Ana.
The dead suspects both were career criminals.
On Nov. 29, 1978, Officer Richard Steed was shot and killed while responding to what was believed to be a medical aid call on El Camino Real. The caller claimed to have slashed his wrists. When Officer Steed arrived at the scene, he was shot by the person who had requested assistance.
The killer fled the scene but was arrested eight hours later in a nearby parking lot. He was later found to be incompetent to stand trial.
Officer Steed had served with the San Clemente Police Department for less than two years, and had previously served with the U.S. Marine Corps. He was survived by his wife.
A park in San Clemente has been named for Officer Steed and a portion of Interstate 5 has been dedicated in his memory. He was the only member of the San Clemente Police Department to have been killed in the line of duty. Policing services in San Clemente now are provided by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
On June 7, 1980, Officer Reed was in the Cripple Creek Bar serving a felony arrest warrant. He and three others officers arrested the suspect and as they were walking him out of the back door, the man suddenly jerked free and started shooting, fatally wounding Officer Reed. Two other officers also were wounded as well as two bar patrons.
The suspect was sentenced to death but a retrial was ordered on appeal. He was convicted again in 2000, making this one of the longest death penalty cases in California history.
Officer Reed left behind a wife and two sons.
On Nov.7, 1980, Officer Michael Rainford was struck and killed by a drunk driver on the Garden Grove Freeway.
He had just made a traffic stop and was exiting his cruiser when the drunk driver crashed into the back of his cruiser, fatally injuring him.
The suspect was apprehended and charged with drunk driving, hit and run, and manslaughter.
Officer Rainford was 23 and married. His wife was pregnant with their second child at the time of his passing.
On March 10, 1987, Officer Ketchum and his partner Officer John Libolt were killed when their helicopter was involved in a midair collision with the Newport Beach Police Department’s helicopter while they were giving air support to a vehicle pursuit. A civilian flight instructor riding in the helicopter also was killed.
The helicopter crashed after the collision near UCI and the 405 Freeway.
The suspect later was caught in Anaheim after a prolonged chase. He later was tried and convicted of murder but the conviction was overturned on appeal. His conviction was reduced to manslaughter.
Officer Ketchum was married and left behind two daughters, 12 and 13.
Officer Libolt was engaged to be married that June. He also had two children from a previous marriage.
The call sign of their unit Eagle II was retired in their memory. They were the first Costa Mesa officers to be killed in the line of duty.
On Aug. 25, 1988 Officer Edward William Clavell Jr., 31, of Westminster was involved in a crash at Westminster Avenue and Seal Beach Boulevard.
Officer Clavell had previously worked for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Westminster Police Department.
To read Part 1 click here
To read Part 2 click here
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.