From a picnic table at Concourse Park, located atop a hill in the Portola Hills neighborhood of Lake Forest, Sean Quinn takes in the expansive views of adjacent Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park and, beyond that, the Santa Ana Mountains.
For more than three decades, Quinn pounded up and down the trails in these and other outdoor O.C. playgrounds on his mountain bike – one of several physical passions that have kept Quinn in excellent shape since he was a standout defensive back for Tustin High School’s football team.
But Quinn, a former sergeant at the Tustin PD, hasn’t been on his mountain bike for nearly three years.
That’s because Quinn, who recently turned 51, had a serious health scare that came to light after his agency, under then-Chief Charlie Celano, implemented a program that encourages physical wellness, as well as heart scans and a fitness assessment, for those who decided to opt in.
Back in May 2017, Quinn was among several TPD officers, in addition to members of the agency’s professional staff, who decided to spend a few minutes with a team of specialists from St. Joseph Hospital in Orange who came to the station’s briefing room to conduct blood pressure and EKG screenings.
The wellness checks were instituted, in part, after one of Quinn’s colleagues and best friends, Sgt. Del Pickney, suffered a heart attack in his office.
Quinn happened to be at work that day, and rode in the ambulance to the hospital with Pickney. Pickney survived that heart attack, but tragically died of a heart attack on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, while hiking with a friend on the Claremont Hills Wilderness Trail.
Quinn vividly recalls the wellness check.
Sculpted as well as in excellent cardio shape, Quinn, who at the time was into Cross Fit, probably was the last person anyone at the TPD would expect to have health issues.
After taking his blood pressure, St. Joseph Hospital specialists performed an electrocardiogram to record the electrical activity of Quinn’ heart using electrodes placed on his skin.
“They hooked me up for the EKG and the guy monitoring it, as soon as he hooks me up and hits a button, he asks me, ‘Do you see a cardiologist?’”
“No,” Quinn replied. “Why?”
“Just curious,” the man replied cryptically.
A year or so prior to the wellness test, Quinn experienced an episode when he was about to sleep, but he wrote it off to working out too much.
“I was lying in my bed and my heart was going absolutely crazy,” Quinn recalls. “It was pounding and racing.”
Quinn’s wife and three children were asleep. He thought about calling 911, but didn’t.
Eventually, he fell asleep.
He told one of his best friends, fellow TPD Officer Jeff Blair, a TPD captain at the time, about the episode the next day.
Fast forward to the stress test in May 2017.
“They were going to go over my results with me and I’m sitting at this table and a nurse comes and sits next to me,” Quinn recalls.
“And then another nurse appears right behind me, and starts rubbing my shoulders. I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on?’”
“You have chronic AFib,” replied a nurse, referring to atrial fibrillation, a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke – even death.
“You need to go see a cardiologist immediately.”
Blair happened to be walking by, and he noticed an unusual look on Quinn’s face.
“You could see concern in his face, which is rare because generally Sean is fearless,” says Blair, who has known Quinn since 1982 and convinced him to become a cop.
Quinn had a question for the nurses and the technician:
“Am I going to walk out of here right now and die?”
“No, you won’t,” a nurse told him. “But you don’t know how long this has been going on, so you don’t know how long you can keep going in this condition.”
Quinn saw a cardiologist, and his scary medical journey began.
“When (Quinn) later told me what they had detected,” Blair said, “I knew it sounded serious. But I didn’t know it was an immediate life-threatening condition.”
Born in Brooklyn, Quinn moved to Tustin with his family when he was in the eighth grade. His father was an accountant and his mother a stay-at-home mom (Quinn has a sister and a step-sister).
At Tustin High, Quinn and Blair became fast friends.
Quinn was recruited to play college football and ultimately played for Saddleback College as a tight end.
While at Saddleback, he won the Gaucho award for fitness (basically a series of tests similar to an NFL combine, but much more diverse). Quinn then attended Western State University in Colorado and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in law enforcement.
Before going to Colorado, Quinn went on a ride-along with Pickney.
“As soon as I got in the car and spent two hours with Del, I’m like, all right, this is what I want to do,” Quinn says.
Blair, who became a sworn police officer at the TPD when he was 20, would tell Quinn how fun and exciting his job was.
In 1997, Quinn put himself through the Fullerton College Police Academy. About halfway through the academy, the Rialto PD hired him, and that’s where he spent his first two years as a cop.
When an opening came up at the TPD following a few slow years of hiring, Blair urged him to apply. Quinn did, and was hired in 1999 – the same year he got married.
Quinn met his wife, Lisa, who now works as a medical billing specialist, in eighth-grade history class at Currie Middle School. She, too, attended Tustin High. Both Blair and Pickney were in Quinn’s wedding party.
“He was always an active officer who liked to hunt down bad guys and put criminals in jail,” Blair recalls of Quinn. “He was an accomplished Field Training Officer, but was probably best known for his years working undercover vice/narcotics.”
Quinn eventually promoted to sergeant and became known as a true “boots on the ground”-type leader.
“If any of his officers were involved in a tense situation in the field, you could guarantee Sean was right there with them,” Blair says.
Quinn became the TPD’s primary arrest and control instructor who taught all officers proper arrest, handcuffing, and search techniques. He also became an expert in legal matters related to police detention and arrest authority and use-of-force science.
Quinn also attended a nationally recognized Force Science academy and was tasked with reviewing all TPD force incidents to ensure proper laws and tactics were employed.
Through it all, he remained in tip-top shape.
Quinn’s wellness check in May 2017 took mere minutes.
“The signs were all there (that something was wrong with my heart),” Quinn says, “but it took that wellness check to wake me up.”
Quinn saw a cardiologist who performed a couple of cardioversions, a procedure aimed at restoring a normal heart rhythm by sending electric shocks to the heart through electrodes placed on the chest, but they weren’t effective.
He then went to an electro physiologist who specializes in the nerves and rhythm of the heart.
While this was going on, Quinn tore his right Achilles tendon during defensive tactics training.
He had to get surgery and was put on light duty.
Then, he developed blood clots in his right leg and was put on blood thinners.
Six months later, Quinn coughed up blood. Doctors discovered blood clots in his lungs.
“I was in the ER and could barely breath and was in significant pain,” Quinn recalls.
“I can’t believe you’re still alive,” a doctor casually told Quinn while discussing treatment plans.
“That was the scariest part,” says Quinn, who was in the hospital for four days on IV blood thinners that helped his body naturally dissolve the blood clots.
Doctors then found blood clots in Quinn’s left leg, and for a while he was received blood thinner injections.
To date, Quinn has undergone two cardiac ablations, a procedure that can correct heart rhythm problems by scarring or destroying tissue in the heart that triggers or sustains an abnormal heart rhythm.
“The first one wasn’t successful, but so far, the second one looks good,” says Quinn, who hasn’t had a heart episode since August 2018.
About a month after his wellness test in May 2017 and his Achilles injury, Quinn never resumed his TPD duties.
He medically retired from the TPD in February 2019.
He continues to take anti-arrhythmia medications and will be on blood thinners the rest of his life.
Says his good friend Blair: “I’m grateful for that wellness test, because although we lost a good cop, it saved the life of one of my closest friends.”
Although he hasn’t ridden his mountain bike in ages, Quinn stays in shape by going to the gym.
And, in May 2019, he took up surfing.
“I figure water’s a lot softer than the trail,” Quinn says.
Tustin PD Motor Officer John Hedges gave Quinn a board and showed him the ropes.
“It’s just peaceful out there (in the water),” says Quinn, who recently bought his own board, a 9 foot 6 inch Rockin Fig.
“When I stand up and ride a wave in,” Quinn says, “that’s a good day.”
He now surfs Doheny two to three times a week.
The Quinns have an RV and the family loves to go camping.
Although he is enjoying life, Quinn misses his days at the TPD.
“I love that place,” he says. “I met lifelong friends there. I got great stories to tell for the rest of my life, and (the TPD) fed my family. My wife got to stay home and raise my kids and I worked and had a great career. We never drove Porsches and Mercedes, but I paid my bills every month and I got a nice house in a beautiful community.
“You can complain about anything you want,” Quinn adds. “And I had my fair share of complaints, but overall, the TPD treated me well. It was a great place to work, and I miss it.”
Quinn was planning on working at the TPD until he was 55. Recently, he launched his own private investigations company, SRQ Investigations (the R is for Richard), mostly working for defense attorneys and attorneys who specialize in family law.
The Quinns have three children. Two are in college and one is in high school.
“I think a lot of cops get really focused on doing the job and working overtime and buying the RVs and boats and getting the bigger house, and they kind of forget what’s important, you know?” Quinn says.
“I want to watch my kids graduate and have grandkids. Now, I think more about the things that are important in life.”