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Ceremony to Honor Slain Police Officers : Law enforcement: Memorial will be held in Palos Verdes Estates for Capt. Michael Tracy and Sgt. Thomas Vanderpool.

February 09, 1995|JEFF KASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On Valentine's Day, the one-year anniversary of the slayings of two police officers, Palos Verdes Estates is planning a small, quiet ceremony in a park across from City Hall.

The ceremony will honor Capt. Michael Tracy, 50, and Sgt. Vernon Thomas Vanderpool, 57, who were attending a city management seminar at the Torrance Holiday Inn a year ago when they were shot by a masked gunman who had burst into the 12th-floor meeting room yelling, "This is a robbery."

The gunman, later identified as David Fukuto, the son of a state appeals court judge, died in an ensuing melee.

Police Chief Gary Johansen said psychologist Lawrence Blum, who helped officers deal with the killings, will speak at the ceremony.

"We want to remember them," he said. "But I have to look at the fact that the department has been through a lot this past year, and the last thing I want to do is reopen the wounds."

About a dozen city officials--half of them high-ranking police officers--were at the management seminar. After shooting Tracy and Vanderpool, Fukuto was wrestled to the ground by other officers. A coroner's report found that Fukuto died of head injuries and asphyxia. Fukuto was wearing a bulletproof vest, and a coroner's spokesman had speculated that Fukuto may have been choked by the vest.

The officers who grappled with Fukuto were later absolved of any wrongdoing by the district attorney.

Johansen, who keeps photos of the two officers in his office, and who shared a passion for dirt-bike riding with Tracy, said that talking about the shooting with Blum helped him overcome his grief.

"(The shooting) will make me a better police officer by being more sympathetic to victims," he said. "We were all victims."

Johansen said Palos Verdes Estates has 23 sworn officers who patrol the city of 14,000. The city, like the other Palos Verdes Peninsula cities, is known for its million-dollar homes and quiet streets. The city reported no murders and one robbery last year.

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The police department is close-knit, and after the shootings the entire force was placed on paid leave. Officers from surrounding communities stepped in to do everything from public relations to patrol.

Today, photos of the slain officers look down on visitors from a display case in the department's small lobby. Beside the photos are coffee mugs with the officers' names, and poems dedicated to the two men.

Absent from next week's ceremony will be members of the Tracy family. Tammi Andersland, one of Tracy's two daughters, said that, instead, the family plans to visit a place her father had always wanted to visit but never made it to.

Andersland said she does not want her father, or Vanderpool, to be forgotten. "But the anniversary is reminding us this would be the last week we spent with him," she said.

Andersland remembers leaving a special dinner, flowers and chocolates for her father and stepmother at their Redondo Beach home last Valentine's Day. Driving back to her Torrance home, she spotted the helicopters hovering over the Holiday Inn, but did not think anything of it. Then, the police called to say that her father had been shot. Later, a hospital surgeon called to say that her father had died.

"My legs gave out from under me," she said. "I don't think I passed out, but the shock pushed me off my feet."

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