LAPD officer recalls night his partner was killed in violent Harbor City crash
LA Daily News
Mar 28, 2017
A Los Angeles police officer turned away from a jury to wipe tears from his eyes Monday as prosecutors played a police dash cam video showing the aftermath of a crash that in Harbor City killed his partner.
Officer Richard Medina spoke calmly and without emotion during most of his testimony, sitting across the room from a 22-year-old man police and prosecutors allege intentionally rammed a patrol car, ending the life of 32-year-old Officer Roberto Sanchez.
“I remember a loud boom. It was a loud noise,” said Medina, testifying during the Long Beach Superior Court trial of Mynor Varela, a Harbor City resident who could be sent to prison for the rest of his life.
“I was knocked out. … When I started to open my eyes, I could see a cloud. I thought I was in a dream.”
He then noticed his teeth in his hand.
Medina’s testimony came as Deputy District Attorney Geoff Lewin wound down his case, which began a week earlier before Judge James Otto.
Prosecutors contend Varela intentionally struck the left side of the officers’ patrol car May 3, 2014, as Sanchez followed his friend, Oscar Vergara, in his 1994 Chevrolet Camaro on Anaheim Street near President Avenue.
Varela is charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter causing great bodily injury, assault on two police officers and leaving the scene of an accident. He also faces a special allegation that he killed a police officer. Should he be convicted of the charges, he will never get out of prison.
Prosecutors allege Varela smashed his Chevrolet Tahoe into the patrol car at 63 mph, braking, hitting the gas, braking again and plowing into the driver’s side door as Sanchez made a U-turn in front of him.
Varela’s defense team alleges it was an accident that resulted from the officer’s U-turn.
Sanchez, who was driving that day, had partnered with Medina once they were assigned to the Harbor Division in 2012. They already were friends who had worked together at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Newton Division. The officers requested their days off and vacations at the same time, so their families could spend time together.
At the time of the crash, they were assigned to patrol the Harbor Gateway.
NIGHT SHIFT DRAGGING
That night shift, Medina said, was dragging. They stopped at a 7-Eleven convenience store where they had become friends with the manager. Their presence at 3 a.m. offered security for the store and allowed Medina to use a microwave oven to warm up the spaghetti and meatballs his wife had packed for his dinner. Sanchez bought a burrito from a taco truck.
When they resumed their patrol, Medina saw a call of a fight near Anaheim Street and Western Avenue on his computer. They responded.
As they approached the intersection, the officers could see a Chevrolet Tahoe ahead of them, Medina said. In front of the Tahoe was a “cloud of dust” from where Vergara was doing circles, or doughnuts, in the street.
Their dashboard camera recorded the rest of the scene. The Tahoe, allegedly driven by Varela, put its reverse lights on. Sanchez pulled around it. Medina said they saw the Camaro perform another doughnut.
Sanchez tried to catch up to it, he said. The Camaro soon made a U-turn. The two drivers found themselves facing each other.
“I remember looking at the young man who was behind the wheel,” Medina said.
CAUGHT ON VIDEO
The video recorded Sanchez making a U-turn. Suddenly, the picture became distorted when the Tahoe allegedly rammed the car.
Medina said he opened his window and could feel a burst of wind. A man was trying to help him.
“I remember squeezing the radio and it was dead,” Medina said. At that point, he realized Sanchez was on top of him.
“I tried to shake him. I said, ‘Hey, wake up,’ ” Medina recalled. “He was moaning.”
Although the picture was gone, the video recorded Sanchez’s moans, one after another. They echoed through a silent courtroom as they played.
“He was just moaning,” Medina said. “I remember telling him not to do this to me.”
Medina said he pulled out his cellphone and called his watch commander. “We are down,” he told his boss.
Officer Cesar Plascencia was the first to arrive. His dashboard camera recorded the mangled the Tahoe and police car, its driver’s side caved in, as he rolled up to it. Plascencia checked the Tahoe. The driver was gone.
Plascencia said he found Sanchez on top of Medina. Sanchez wasn’t breathing, he said.
The video showed firefighters arriving to take care of the officers. Both were taken to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
“I kept asking, ‘Where’s Robert? Where’s my partner?’ ” Medina said. “I wanted to be with him.”
Medina said he learned four hours later that Sanchez had died. Medina suffered a broken jaw and other injuries. He missed the next 10 months of work.
Police officers arrested Varela hours after the crash. He has remained in jail ever since.
His attorney, Regina Filoppone, has said Varela did not intend to crash into the officer, calling it an accident. A crash reconstructionist took the stand late Monday to dispute the prosecution’s version of events.
The trial should continue for another few days.