He was growing up quickly. He had just turned 18 in January. He was talking about moving out someday soon and attending Santa Monica Community College. He needed an ATM card.
He needed his mom to take him to the bank.
It was a Thursday, June 24, 2010 and school was out, but Carol Champommier was still working in her first grade classroom at Beckford Avenue Elementary in Northridge.
Zachary Nathan Champommier—who just graduated with honors from Granada Hills Charter School—called from their house in Porter Ranch.
“I was still at school, work, work, work,” Carol says.
At 3:30, Zac called, “When are you coming home?”
She left work to take him to the bank, put his trust money in an account and apply for an ATM card. While in the car, he was talking eagerly about his future.
“We were talking about him staying out later, having his own place, things like that,” Carol recalls. “He was excited about growing up.”
Mom made a barbecued steak dinner that night, he like that. Then, she suggested they go out for dessert, but then realized that she didn’t need that extra indulgence. They didn't go.
At about 9 p.m. he asked if he could go out to meet a friend, maybe go to a movie.
“He didn’t go out much, never stayed out late and we were always home together, so I thought it was fine,” Carol says. “He said he’d be home by 11, maybe midnight.”
What she didn’t know is that he was going to meet someone he had only ever emailed before on the Internet.
What she also didn’t know is that within an hour, at 9:54 p.m., he would be declared dead in a Studio City parking lot.
“He liked the idea of meeting new people, he wanted to travel the world,” Carol says.
According to police reports, a team of undercover, non-uniformed police were finishing up work at a house near Mulholland Drive in the Studio City hills. They picked the large parking lot behind Chipotle’s for the debriefing of the nine agents, which included the Drug Enforcement Agency, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, an IRS agent and an LAPD officer.
Their unmarked cars had confiscated drugs and cash inside.
Zac was meeting 29-year-old Douglas Ryan Oeters. Zac called him and he was over by the across the football field-sized parking lot.
Zac’s mom to this day has never met Oeters. Now she can’t, because he’s a key witness to her civil suit against the police agencies that is being heard in U.S. Federal District Court on Nov. 16.
As it turns out, Zac never met Oeters either.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s reports say that Oeters was looking into cars. That caused the police to surround him. They were detaining him when they saw Zac driving toward a sheriff’s deputy.
The Los Angeles Times interviewed Oeters in an email exchange a few weeks after the shooting, and said he was looking for a white car matching the description of the Toyota Corolla that belonged to Zac’s mom.
Oeters said that he met Zac online the night before and they were going to hang out and go to a movie. Oeters said the officers looked liked a group of rednecks gathered in the parking lot.
Sheriff's officials said the two officers who fired six rounds at Zac’s car did not have time to identify themselves. But, an internal investigation found no fault on behalf of the officers, and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office did not file any criminal charges.
No one was ever reprimanded for the shooting.
Police say the car was lurching toward the officer. Experts retained by Champommier said they figured the car was at a standstill, or going no more than 5 mphs.
“He was shot and a bullet went through his left arm, a lung, his heart and out through his right arm,” Carol says. “If Zak saw these guys draw a gun, I could see that he would want to get out of there, whether or not he knew that this was the guy he was meeting.”
Zac didn’t like action movies, or blood and gore films, his mother says. He liked anime fantasy films, like Ponyo, and she thought that perhaps Toy Story 3 was the last film he saw, or a midnight showing of the latest Harry Potter series.
“He had a soft nature,” Carol says. “And knowing him like I do, he would have tried to keep his friend from coming into the area, but he would not try to be a vigilante. He would not have tried to stop a bad guy. That wasn’t like him. He didn’t like conflict.”
Would he deliberately try to ram his car into someone? “It was his mom’s car, that was my Toyota,” she says. “No, he wouldn’t have done that.”
The police interviews said that one officer saw a “panicked” look on Zac’s face.
“I could only imagine he was just scared out of his mind,” Carol says. “Oh my god, he never got in an accident before, he never got a speeding ticket.”
Carol went to bed at 11 p.m. and left the outside light on and her bedroom door open. She didn’t hear him come in and when she woke up at 4:15 a.m. she started worrying.
“That’s when I panicked,” Carol recalls. “I called a few of his friends and there was no answer, and then I called my fiancé and my dad.”
One of those friends, Joseph Berellez, (see blog here) blogged about that morning that Zac’s mom called. “She was obviously hiding how hysterical she was feeling, and I could hear the shaking in her voice. …A few of my friends and I tried calling him and others we thought we might find him with. We all agreed that he probably fell asleep at a friend’s house.”
At 9 a.m. Zac had been gone 12 hours, so Carol called LAPD to report a missing person. Within minutes, the sheriff’s department homicide officers showed up and she thought that was a fast reaction.
“You know where he is?” she asked.
“Ma’am, do you have anyone else home, or someone nearby you can talk to,” the deputy said.
“Oh my god, oh my god, is he OK?” she kept asking.
One of them looked her in eyes. “Your son died last night. Is there anyone you can call?”
She called her father, while picturing her son in a car accident. Her father let out a long wailing, “NOOOO!”
The deputies sat with Carol for an uncomfortable hour as her dad drove in, and explained, “Your son rammed an officer.”
Carol was incredulous as the explanation unfolded. “He would not do that.”
They told her there would be an internal investigation. It took more than a year to get the sheriff’s report.
Through the parent of one of Zac’s bandmates, Carol found attorney Gary Dordick, who took the case on a contingency basis. They filed a civil case for $10 million in damages in the U.S. District Court. It will be heard by a judge, not a jury, and is scheduled for Nov. 16.
Carol continually goes over every moment of that last day she spent with her son. What if she had gone out to for dessert with him? What if she just said “No” when he asked if he could go out? Would he be alive today?
“He wanted to explore the world, he couldn’t wait to go out there and do it,” she says. “And he didn’t even get to use an ATM card.”
A week after his death, Zac’s ATM card arrived in the mail.
Also see . . .
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