Randal Simmons one of LAPD officers to receive Medal of Valor

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 @ 12:06 AM Author:

By C.J. Lin Staff Writer


Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck embraces Matthew Simmons after presenting him with a Medal of Valor in honor of his father, Randal, a SWAT officer killed in a standoff in 2008. (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times / May 19, 2010)


It was February 6, 2008, a fateful day for the Los Angeles Police Department. As a barrage of bullets were exchanged between Los Angeles police officers and a barricaded gunman who had killed several family members in Winnetka, Officer Randal David Simmons, a 27-year veteran, became the LAPD’s first SWAT officer to die in the line of duty. His fellow SWAT officer, James Veenstra, was shot in the face. He later recovered after undergoing extensive surgery.


Thursday, Simmons and Veenstra, along with more than a dozen officers, will each be honored with a Medal of Valor, which is awarded to officers who knowingly and willingly place themselves in harm’s way whether they are on duty or not.

“Randy Simmons is an example of an officer who died doing what he loved, died doing what he believed was important, but nonetheless was a casualty of our profession,” said Police Chief Charlie Beck in his monthly message. “Randy, along with 16 of his fellow officers, distinguished themselves with gallantry to save the lives of strangers at the risk of their own lives.”

Of that number, five are from the LAPD’s Valley Bureau, including Officer Mark Mireles, who will become the first officer to receive the medal a third time. In the Winnetka standoff, now known as the Welby Way incident, Mireles, who was then in the West Valley division but is now an officer at the Topanga division, pulled the gunman’s wounded father from the floor near the front door of the house while gunfire continued. His partner, Officer Bonnie Lehigh, who is now also with the Topanga division, had entered the house and opened fire to provide cover for fellow officers. Lehigh will also receive a medal.

Mireles previously received a medal for a 2000 incident in which he saved a woman from a burning car surrounded by downed power lines, and for another rescue in 2006 in which he grabbed a woman who had jumped from a balcony in a suicide attempt. Ofc. Eric Hammerschmitt of the Van Nuys division will receive a medal for his response to a four car accident on June 1, 2008 on the southbound I-405 Freeway at the Sherman Way exit.

As he and his partner neared the accident, an explosion engulfed one of the cars in a fireball. A man and his 15-year-old daughter were still in the car and Hammerschmitt tried to open the door with his bare hands, according to the LAPD. He was able to break a window and pull the man to safety, and returned to try to rescue the daughter, who was fully engulfed in flames. He had to be pulled away from the car to avoid injury, according to the LAPD. The girl died at the scene of the accident, and the father died the next day at a local hospital. Officer Steve Beumer of Hollywood division and Ofc. Alonso Menchaca of Mission division will receive the medal for their rescue efforts that ended less tragically.

Beumer was off duty and headed home to the Valley on the 118 Freeway when a speeding car crashed into a pick-up, causing the truck to hit a concrete overpass support, flip over and burst into flames. Menchaca was also on the freeway, and both officers pulled over to help the trapped driver, according to the LAPD. The driver was unconscious in the crushed car as the passenger compartment began to fill with smoke and fire began consuming the dashboard. Beumer grabbed a piece of metal debris and broke the window and crawled into the car even as his own clothes caught on fire. Menchaca and Beumer finally managed to pull out the driver, who was then semi-conscious and screaming in pain because his hair, back and legs were on fire, just before the car exploded, according to the LAPD.

“If there’s a fire, these are the folks that went into the building, or if there was a car fire, pulled to the side without anyone issuing a radio call,” said Ofc. Sara Faden of the LAPD Media Relations. “Some of them were often being injured themselves.” cj.lin@dailynews.com 818-713-3738

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