Editor’s note: Part 4 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 last installment covers the years 1988 through 2013. During that time, seven officers were killed in motorcycle accidents, seven were shot and killed by suspects, three officers died of job-related illnesses, two died in car accidents, one died in a helicopter crash, one died in a training accident, one due to a heart attack during training, and one detective was killed when struck by a train during an investigation.
All of the pictures are from the Orange County Peace Officer Memorial Site.
On Oct. 16, 1988, Officer Robert Roulston was killed in a motorcycle accident when he struck a vehicle that made a left turn in front of him as he approached an intersection. He was working a special assignment at a California Rams football game at the Anaheim Stadium at the time of the incident. No charges were filed against the driver who caused the accident.
Officer Roulston was one of the funniest cops I ever knew. His wife was a dispatcher at Anaheim PD.
Officer Roulston is survived by his wife, son, brother and sister.
On Oct. 24, 1988, Deputy Mark Tonkin lost his life in a helicopter crash. He was assigned to DESERT RANGER, a multi-agency cooperative narcotics enforcement program in the state. Mark was one of eight victims aboard a California National Guard’s helicopter that went down and burned in mountainous terrain near El Centro.
Two deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, one each from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept. and the Imperial County Sheriff’s Dept., and three officers from the California National Guard also lost their lives in the crash.
Deputy Tonkin was survived by his wife, Mary Ann, and parents, James and Gloria Tonkin, of Whittier.
On Thursday, June 21, 1990, Officer De La Rosa was shot and killed after being ambushed by drug dealers in Downey during an undercover narcotics investigation. Despite being mortally wounded, Officer De La Rosa was able to return fire and kill one of the suspects. The three remaining suspects were all apprehended and convicted of Officer De La Rosa’s murder. All three were sentenced to life without parole.
On a personal note, I worked dozens of narcotics investigations alongside Tommy. He was the kind of guy who made work seem like play and always gave you a reason to laugh. At the time of his death, both our daughters were 18 months old and named Ashley.
Tommy was married and had four children.
On Tuesday, March 9, 1993, Master Officer Howard Dallies was shot and killed as he approached a motorcycle he had pulled over in the early morning hours. Without warning, the motorcycle’s driver turned and fired six shots at Master Officer Dallies, striking him four times. Officer Dallies died a few hours after being shot.
The suspect was driving a stolen motorcycle with false tags from a similar bike. The suspect was finally arrested in July 1997 while in prison for other charges. Due to alleged procedural violations during the investigation the suspect was never brought to trial.
This is the only case in Orange County where a police officer has been killed and the suspect has not been brought to justice.
Officer Dallies was married and had two sons.
On April 23, 1993, Sgt. Steel was driving along Irvine Boulevard when his motorcycle was struck by a driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel. The suspect was charged with vehicular manslaughter.
Sgt. Steel had been with the agency for 21 years and was survived by his wife and two sons.
On Christmas Day 1993, Deputy Darryn Robins was killed during an on-duty training mishap when he was accidently shot by a fellow deputy.
On Oct. 31, 1994, Officer Michael Osornio was killed when a drunk driver broadsided his patrol car at the intersection of La Habra Boulevard and Beach Boulevard. The drunk driver ran a red light and struck his patrol car at an estimated 60 mph.
The suspect was charged in connection with Officer Osornio’s death. He was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison.
Officer Osornio had served with the La Habra Police Department for 14 months. He was survived by his fiancee, parents, sisters and a brother.
On March 12, 1995, Officer Henry contacted a possible drunk suspect. The suspect gave Officer Henry a military ID card and then opened fire with a handgun he had concealed underneath his shirt, striking Officer Henry.
The suspect then shot and killed himself.
Officer Henry remained in a coma for 33 days until succumbing to his injuries.
Officer Henry had served with the agency for five years. He was survived by his wife, son and two daughters.
On May 22, 1996, Detective Terry Fincher was struck and killed by a train while searching for evidence in an assault case. Detective Fincher had his back to the oncoming train and it is believed that he did not hear the train or the yells from another officer. As he stepped off of the track he was sucked back into the train’s path.
Detective Fincher was a decorated Vietnam veteran. He was married and the father of four children.
Please read the message left by Detective Fincher’s son Nathan on the Officer Down Memorial Page. It is very touching.
On July 19, 1996, Officer Burt was shot and killed just off the Nutwood Street exit of the 57 Freeway in Fullerton during a traffic stop.
Officer Burt was searching the trunk of the vehicle when he found forged payroll checks and counterfeit traveler’s checks. The suspect produced a 9 mm handgun and shot him six times. As he lay on the ground the suspect stole his weapon and keys and then shot him execution style in the head.
The suspect stole his patrol car and fled the scene. He was eventually located and apprehended in Houston, Texas.
While in prison, the suspect attempted to have witnesses and the deputy district attorney murdered. He was sentenced to death in 2000.
Officer Burt had served with the California Highway Patrol for just over one year. Officer Burt’s wife gave birth to their son on Sept. 22, 1996, two months after his murder.
On Oct. 30, 1989, Investigator Little’s vehicle was hit as he entered an intersection. Investigator Little had been assigned to assist another officer who had been wounded while on duty two months earlier.
The other driver and the second officer both walked away from the accident with minor injuries. Investigator Little was in a deep coma for two months with various broken bones and crushed ribs. He spent the next seven years in various hospitals and rehab facilities, but later succumbed to his injuries.
Investigator Little had served with the agency for 12 years. He is survived by his wife and three children.
On Aug. 14, 1997, Deputy Sheriff Shayne York was shot during a robbery at a hair salon in Buena Park.
Deputy York and his fiancée, who was also a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, were off duty when two suspects entered and ordered everyone to the ground. While one suspect covered the customers the other collected everyone’s wallets and purses. The two suspects discovered Deputy York’s badge and immediately shot him in the back of the head as he lay on the ground. Deputy York had not resisted and remained calm throughout the entire robbery trying to keep others from getting hurt.
The two suspects were arrested later in the day during a traffic stop by members of the Fullerton Police Department. In August 2000, the suspect who pulled the trigger was found guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances and sentenced to death. The other suspect was sentenced to life in prison.
Deputy York had served with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for two years. He is survived by his fiancée, parents and a brother.
Sgt. Van Horn, along with fire personnel, responded to a toxic chemicals fire in 1987. Sgt. Van Horn coordinated traffic and evacuation at the scene without protective gear and was exposed to the toxic chemicals.
Years after the fire, Sgt. Van Horn and three firefighters were diagnosed with cancer. Sgt. Van Horn passed away from the illness on Nov. 16, 1997. One other firefighter has also passed away.
Sgt. Van Horn is survived by his wife and six children.
On June 30, 1998, Sgt. John Aguilar passed away after contracting leukemia as a result of extended contact with benzene, a chemical known to be a carcinogen. This occurred while he was a member of the agency’s narcotics unit. During that time, Sgt. Aguilar had conducted over 25 raids on meth labs containing the chemical.
Sgt. Aguilar served with the Santa Ana Police Department for 11 years and had previously served with the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement for 10 years. He is survived by his wife, four daughters and one grandson.
On June 12, 1999, Deputy Brad Riches was shot and killed in the city of Lake Forest. Deputy Riches was on routine patrol, driving through the parking lot of a 7-Eleven when without warning, a man carrying an AK-47 assault rifle opened fire on Riches while he sat in his patrol car.
The suspect fired more than two dozen assault rifle rounds at Deputy Riches. He was later arrested and received the death penalty.
On June 19, 2000, Deputy Parsons was struck by a vehicle while on patrol on his police motorcycle in the City of Laguna Hills. He died five days later. The driver had run a red light.
Deputy Parsons and had been employed with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for 11 years. He is survived by his wife, 6-year-old daughter, 3-year-old son, parents and a sister.
On Friday, Sept. 20, 2002, in the City of Mission Viejo Sgt. Matt Davis was involved in a traffic collision. Matt was traveling southbound on his police motorcycle on Marguerite Parkway approaching the intersection of La Sierra Drive. Suddenly, a vehicle trying to make a left turn onto northbound Marguerite Parkway pulled out into Sgt. Davis’ lane causing the two vehicles to collide.
Deputy Davis succumbed to his injuries on Sept. 22, 2002.
He is survived by his wife and three children.
On June 13, 2003 Cpl. Tyler Pinchot’s police motorcycle was struck from behind on Orangethorpe Avenue. On Sept. 23, 2003, he succumbed to his injuries.
Cpl. Pinchot had served with the Buena Park Police Department for 23 years and is survived by his wife, three stepchildren, parents and five siblings.
On Jan. 29, 2004, Officer Steven L. Phillips, 46, a 17-year veteran of the department, was on routine traffic enforcement duty when his motorcycle collided with a sedan at an intersection in the city. The elderly driver was making a left turn in the path of Officer Phillips when the collision occurred. Tragically, the driver of the sedan suffered massive injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. Officer Phillips, also critically injured, was transported to a Huntington Beach hospital, where he later succumbed to his injuries.
Officer Phillips was the first Westminster Police officer to be killed in the line of duty.
Officer Phillips is survived by his wife Sandy, his father and two brothers.
On April 14, 2007, Special Agent Dillon succumbed to injuries sustained as the result of multiple exposures to known carcinogens associated with the manufacture of methamphetamine while he conducted criminal investigations involving clandestine meth labs between 1994 and 2001.
It was during his assignment with the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement when he sustained these exposures. He was subsequently diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2006 and passed away on April 14, 2007. His death was affirmed by the California Attorney General as a line-of-duty death and he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Purple Heart by the California Department of Justice on July 21, 2009.
Special Agent Dillon was assigned to the Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence. He had served in law enforcement for 24 years, with prior service with the California Highway Patrol.
He is survived by his wife and two children.
On Nov. 6, 1980, Investigator Essoe and his partner drove to the Mall of Orange. As they looked for a place to park their unmarked car, the investigators saw three men attempting to steal a car. The three men all were parolees. Investigator Essoe was fired upon as he attempted to make contact with the men. The shot paralyzed him from the chest down.
Essoe’s shooting prompted Sheriff Gates to establish what has become “Project 999,” which helps wounded officers and the widows and orphans of peace officers killed in the line of duty.
Deputy Essoe remained paralyzed and struggled to survive through numerous medical problems directly linked to his injuries. On Feb. 4, 2010, Retired Sgt. Ira Gabor Essoe succumbed to his injuries. The coroner ruled his death a homicide: “Delayed complications from remote gunshot wounds.”
The shooters were sentenced to no more than 17 years in prison and were paroled after four years.
Sgt. Essoe is survived by his wife and three children.
On July 29, 2011, Officer Ackerman participated in a biannual physical fitness SWAT training exercise. After completing the training exercise, Ackerman reported that he felt faint and dizzy. He was treated at the scene by a full-time physician who trains with the SWAT team. Ackerman was then taken to nearby St. Jude Hospital and was admitted for treatment.
Tragically, on July 30 Officer Ackerman passed away. He was 31.
Ackerman is survived by his daughter Avery, his mother Cynthia, his sister Christie, his uncle Bill and aunt Carole.
On Sept. 21, 2013, Officer Jon Coutchie was killed in a motorcycle accident at the intersection of South Coast Highway and Cleo Street while looking for a speeding vehicle that had evaded other officers.
His motorcycle was involved in a collision with a pickup truck in the intersection.
Officer Coutchie served with the Laguna Beach Police Department as a police officer for four years and had previously served with the agency as a part-time jailer for two years.
He is survived by his parents and brother.
To read Part 1 click here
To read Part 2 click here
To read Part 3 click here
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.