Hundreds of mourners, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Jerry Brown, gathered today to pay tribute to Los Angeles police Officer Nicholas Choung Lee, who was killed when his patrol car was struck by a dump truck in Beverly Hills.
Lee, 40, died at the scene of the crash, which occurred around 8 a.m. Friday near Robert Lane and Loma Vista Drive, about one block across the city line. His partner, who was just three months out of the police academy, was hospitalized and released Saturday night. The two were responding to an "unknown trouble" call when the crash occurred.
An investigation into the crash is continuing, but Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said last week the initial indication appears to be that the truck, which wound up on its side after striking the patrol car, may have lost its brakes.
A 16-year veteran who received more than 70 commendations, the Korean- born Lee had previously been assigned to the Van Nuys and Wilshire Stations prior to the Hollywood Station, police said.
Among the mourners at the funeral service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels were Lee's father, Heung Jae Lee; his mother, Choung Ja Lee; his wife, Cathy; their daughters Jalen and Kendall; and his brother, Danny Lee.
"We come before you today with a heavy heart, but as a city filled with love," Garcetti said. "Father, husband, brother, and son; every man and woman with a badge on them today will tell you those titles mean more than anything else. ... Nick Lee had love that he radiated out, and you as the family are the center of that circle, still today with him, right now and always."
Beck thanked those on hand, including officers from numerous jurisdictions around the state and from out of state, and those who sent messages of condolence, including members of the public.
"So many of you have outpoured your grief and your love for Nick in the aftermath, and so many of you are here today," Beck said. "And that is the hallmark of the Los Angeles Police Department -- its partnership with the community -- and Nick appreciates your presence here."
Beck noted while addressing the crowd that he once lost a partner in a car crash.
"Mine died in my arms," Beck said. "He will never leave you. He will always be in your heart, just like he'll be in all of our hearts."
Lee's brother, Danny, said his brother showed him the meaning of tough love when they were growing up, saying Nicholas would keep him in line with a sharp punch in the arm, or using a headlock he learned by watching wrestling.
"It wasn't easy being Nick Lee's little brother," he said.
Danny Lee said the impact of his brother's death didn't hit him until he visited Nicholas' daughters, and the oldest asked him, "Who is going to take me to the father-daughter dance?"
"That's when it hit me all at once," he said. "Well, Jalen, I'm gonna take you, and the only difference is, I wont have a gun on me."
Speaking to Nicholas Lee's younger daughter, 6-year-old Kendall, Danny Lee said, "I know you're too young to know what's going on right now. But when you're a little bigger, you'll watch this and know that your dad lived for the both of you. Your father now is your guardian angel, and he'll watch over you and your mother."
Following the nearly 90-minute service -- which was led by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez -- the casket was escorted from the cathedral for a procession to Forest Lawn Memorial Park, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale for interment.
Lee was the 205th LAPD officer to die in the line of duty, according the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers. The last was SWAT Officer Randy Simmons in 2008, according to Officer Nuria Vanegas of the LAPD's Media Relations Section.
Two LAPD officers died in Iraq in 2010 while serving in the U.S. military, she said.
A memorial fund has been set up for Lee's family. Donations can be made to Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union/Attention: Nicholas Lee/Blue Ribbon Fund, P.O. Box 10188, Van Nuys, CA, 91410.
--City News Service