When asked why applicants want to be a police officer, more often than not, the response is resoundingly, “So I can help people.”
While it’s seen as cliché and overused, officers say it because it’s true. They really, wholeheartedly want to help people.
Which is why this story is so heartbreaking.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detective, 41-year-old Amber Leist, was killed in an accident, off-duty Sunday morning in the area of Valley Village.
The 12-year veteran was reportedly at a red light waiting to make a left turn. An elderly lady was crossing the street in the crosswalk in front of Leist’s car and fell down. Without hesitation, Leist put her car in park, got out, and assisted the elderly lady in getting across the street.
As she walked back to her car after safely delivering the woman to the other side of the road, she was struck by a vehicle.
It was reported that the driver pulled over and tried to render aide to Leist, who was badly injured. She was transported to the hospital but died of her injuries.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said this on Twitter,
Today, @LASDHQ is grieving. We are shocked/stunned by the sudden loss of a family member. Amber Leist, a @WHDLASD detective, and 12 year veteran of LASD, was fatally struck by a vehicle in @LACity while assisting others. She was an outstanding detective who lead by example. pic.twitter.com/PcNIlAfTz8
— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) January 13, 2020
Lead by example indeed. A 12-year veteran who still stopped her car, off-duty, no less, to assist a woman in crossing the street. That is a true, bona fide hero.
“She was an outstanding detective,” Sheriff Villanueva said during a news conference. “She would lead by example through her act of kindness.” The Sheriff added, “It’s unfortunate. God had a better plan for her and she was called home.”
Leist is survived by her parents and two sons, 17 and 20-years-old. The eldest is on active duty in the US Navy, and Sheriff Villanueva told reporters that they had been able to reach him to advise him of the loss of his mother.
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) January 13, 2020
Leist began her career with LA County Sheriffs working as a north county corrections officer. She also served as a deputy in Lancaster as well as a school resource officer. She was promoted to detective during the last five years spent with the West Hollywood station.
Sheriff Villanueva has relieved personnel at West Hollywood station to offer them time for bereavement. The department has also assigned a psychologist to the location.
“It’s a tough day for our department,” the Sheriff said. “We’re going to get through this as a family.”
Police officers lined the route for the procession of Leist’s body, which was escorted from Cedar Sinai Hospital to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.
Condolences were expressed all over Twitter.
The National Fraternal Order of Police tweeted,
“A #hero tragically lost her life today in the service of her #community. Please keep the friends and family of detective Amber Leist in your thoughts and prayers.”
A photograph of deputies standing up and lining a parking garage was posted by LA County Sheriffs. The caption read,
“We line up with a heavy heart to ensure the safe passage of our fallen sister, @WHDLASD Deputy Amber Leist.”
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said,
“LASD Detective Amber Leist represented the very best within our profession and showed her dedication to others on or off-duty. She, without hesitation, assisted someone in need. We stand with her family, her friends, and the LASD tonight.”
LASD Lancaster Station posted,
“A tragic loss today, as Detective Amber Leist lost her life after being struck by a car. Detective Leist was off duty & helping someone across the street. She was a long time Lancaster patrol deputy. Please keep her 2 boys in your prayers. We will miss you friend. #LASD #AV411”
In response, a California leadership, mentorship, and training company called Harbinger Horizon, LLC said,
“A reminder of how phenomenal and noble the profession is. Not because of what she was- a deputy, but who she was: someone who is always there when needed most, not matter when or where, even when one isn’t even called upon to act. Her final act was #love.”
On that beautiful note, rest in peace, Deputy Leist. We’ll take it from here.
Meanwhile, a similar story came out of Florida this week with a twist of evil.
A Florida man is in jail for purposely running over a 75-year-old pedestrian in his vehicle.
21-year-old Justyn Pennell allegedly told investigators he had been planning to kill someone for several months.
Reports show Pennell called 911 after the crash. Not to call for help, but because he had hit an electric pole and couldn’t go anywhere. Detectives say that’s when he admitted to dispatch that he purposely ran over a man and could see the terror in the pedestrian’s eyes.
“There are some cases that we hear of that absolutely, even for us in law enforcement, make us just realize and remind us that there is pure evil in this world,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. “And because of pure evil that happened yesterday, there is a 75-year-old man who is a father, a grandfather, a Vietnam war Army veteran who was killed.”
Investigators say Pennell had no connection to the man. He is now being charged with premeditated murder. Pennell says he saw the man while he was running errands.
Police say he drove by the man, and then made a U-turn so he could hit him.
He did not appear to be under the influence at the time.
“The suspect tells us later on that while he’s driving there at this victim, he can see the look of fright on that victim’s face. He can see that fear, he can see that emotion of, ‘Oh, my gosh — this person’s about to hit me,’” Nocco said.
An arrest report says Pennell told investigators that he was smiling and laughing as he hit the man. Nocco said Pennell’s car was so heavily damaged by the impact that it broke down nearby as he drove away from the scene.
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That car trouble is reportedly what led Pennell to call 911.
“I give credit to the dispatcher in the county 911 center. She actually gets a confession out of him on tape,” the sheriff said.
Investigators said Pennell had no trouble answering their questions and didn’t appear to be under the influence.
“The only thing he really told us at this time was that he had planned this for several months, that he wanted to kill somebody, and on that day, he decided to leave his home with the intent to run over and kill them,” said Sgt. Michael Rosa with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit.
The Sheriff’s Office is not identifying the victim, but Nocco said he was a father, grandfather, and veteran.
Nocco is asking for the public’s help with the investigation. A witness reported seeing cars pull over after the attack and possibly take pictures of the scene. The sheriff would like those people to contact his office.
“If you were out there and you saw something, we just want to talk to you. We just want to find out what happened, what you saw,” he said.
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