IRVINE — A California Highway Patrol motorcycle sergeant was struck and fatally injured Friday in a head-on collision with a driver who swerved into the oncoming lane on a dark stretch of road, authorities said.
The driver, a 25-year-old man from Trabuco Canyon, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of manslaughter and drunk driving. He was not injured.
Sgt. John L. Steel, 47, was riding his police motorcycle to work at the CHP office in Santa Ana at 4:20 a.m. when he was struck on Irvine Boulevard east of Sand Canyon Avenue, the highway patrol reported.
As Steel lay mortally injured, a Marine who was driving to work at nearby El Toro Marine Corps Air Station spotted the wreck and called for help using the radio on the officer's smashed motorcycle.
Steel "was coherent and then went into shock, and then he was completely incoherent," recalled Marine Staff Sgt. Ronald Clark. Clark, who was joined a few minutes later by another motorist, used his belt as a tourniquet around Steel's bleeding right leg.
"We just reassured him, tried to keep him as comfortable as possible," Clark said. Officers transported Steel to UCI Medical Center in Orange, where he died about 5:40 a.m., said CHP Officer Angel Johnson.
"He was a good one. We always lose the good ones," said Officer Caryn Juelke, her badge wrapped with a black mourning band as she helped investigate the accident.
The driver, Javier Uribe Chaparro, told authorities he was a day laborer who had planned to look for work in Lake Forest Friday morning.
He was held at Orange County Jail in Santa Ana, and bail was set at $250,000, Johnson said. His arraignment is scheduled Monday in Municipal Court in Newport Beach.
Chaparro holds a state identification card, but no driver's license, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. CHP officials were unable to determine whether he holds a driver's license from another state.
Steel lived with his wife, Virginia, and sons Jake, 17, and Jordan, 13, in Lake Forest. He has worked at the Santa Ana CHP office for the past 10 years, supervising the motorcycle officers there.
Steel was a Marine sergeant before joining the CHP in 1972, authorities said. For the next decade he worked in West Los Angeles, San Diego and East Los Angeles, said Sam Haynes, a CHP spokesman in Sacramento.
He came to the Santa Ana office in 1983 as a member of the protective services unit, helping guard politicians such as then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and President Bush when they visited the county.
Fellow officers in the Santa Ana office spoke about Steel in whispers Friday morning. He was the right-fielder on the station's softball team, and he was on softball teams that played in the annual Police Olympics, Johnson said.
"This is a really tough day," Johnson said. "He was well-liked and respected. Everybody is in shock."
He was the fourth CHP officer in the department's history to die in Orange County. His death also marks the second time this year that a police officer was killed in the line of duty. Garden Grove Police Officer Howard E. Dallies Jr. was shot and killed during a traffic stop, and investigators are still looking for the gunman.
On Friday, a specialized accident investigation team began an investigation at the site where Steel died, sorting and measuring the wreckage.
Investigators with the Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team Friday did not know whether the headlights of Chaparro's Plymouth were on as he traveled along the flat, straight stretch of Irvine Boulevard, which is between the northern edge of the Marine base and a row of nurseries. The section of Irvine Boulevard does not have overhead lighting.
Investigator Kerri Hawkins said the investigation may take a month before it is turned over to the district attorney's office.