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One Suspect in Deputy's Slaying Surrenders

May 14, 1995|CARLA HALL and LISA RESPERS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Even as sheriff's deputies jogged across the county in a traditional relay honoring their fallen colleagues, a suspect surrendered Saturday in the killing of a deputy in Lynwood.

Deputies said Eddie Perez, 32, of Lakewood walked into the Lynwood sheriff's station with his mother. Perez was booked on suspicion of murder and was being held without bail at the Century Regional Detention Facility.

A second suspect, who has not been publicly identified, was still at large, investigators said.

Deputy Stephen Blair, 31, was hit by gunfire Friday after he and his partner, Robert Lyons, stopped their car in Lynwood to investigate two men walking in the 5200 block of Walnut Avenue.

"Kind of fitting, isn't it? A memorial run the weekend we lose a deputy," said Deputy Robert Knudson, 35, as he waited in Malibu to join the Sheriff's Department Memorial Run, which began Friday.

According to department spokesman Fidel Gonzales, Blair and Lyons had been patrolling near Ham Memorial Park about 8:20 p.m. Friday when they spotted two men who apparently noticed the deputies and tossed what appeared to be a gun into a yard.

"Blair stopped the car to investigate and one of the men stopped next to the vehicle," Gonzales said. "The other continued walking up the street."

As both deputies got out of their car, Lyons' attention was focused on the man next to the vehicle when he heard shots and saw Blair fall, Gonzales said. Both suspects ran off.

Blair was shot in the chest, just above the top of his bulletproof vest. Although severely wounded, he managed to fire a few rounds from his service revolver, Gonzales said, and may have wounded one of the men.

The assailant still at large is described as a Latino, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, 160-180 pounds, wearing a tan jacket and a blue baseball cap.

At its peak the manhunt involved 100 deputies.

Even as the run continued Saturday afternoon, a weary and visibly saddened Sheriff Sherman Block held a news conference.

Block said Blair, a nine-year veteran of the department, had been assigned to an anti-gang unit in Norwalk only a week ago after being transferred from patrol duty in Lynwood, where he had worked since 1988.

"He knew those streets as well as anyone," Block said. "Just last night (Blair's) mother said to me, 'I was so happy because he had just been moved to a safer area.' "

According to Block, Olga Blair also said her son recently told her: "If anything ever happened to me, you can take comfort in knowing that I was doing what I wanted to do."

Authorities said Blair and Lyons were part of a joint effort by gang enforcement teams from four sheriff's stations who were patrolling Lynwood because of heavy gang activity in the area. Gang enforcement team members cruise neighborhoods looking for suspicious activity and try to establish contact with gang members.

After he was shot, Blair was airlifted to Long Beach Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The sheriff mourned the brutal disregard for authority that resulted in the death of Blair, who is survived by his wife, Dana, and three boys, ages 5, 6, and 11, from a previous marriage.

The deputy was raised in Pico Rivera and served as a sheriff's explorer scout for one year during his youth.

"There used to be a time when these jackets served as a deterrent," Block said, tugging at his green sheriff's jacket, the same type worn by Blair when he was gunned down. "But no more."

Block recalled the irony of his remarks Friday morning when he started the memorial run at Sheriff's Department headquarters by passing the torch to the first runner, civilian employee Lydia Mendoza.

"I made the comment that this past year, while we have had several deputies seriously injured, as an organization we were quite fortunate that none of our people had lost their lives in the line of duty. Less than 12 hours later I found myself at Long Beach Memorial Hospital with the deceased deputy who had been killed as a result of gunfire."

Blair is the first deputy killed since 1992, according to Deputy Brian Jones, a department spokesman. Three deputies have been shot and wounded since then, Jones said.

For 18 years, sheriff's deputies and civilian employees from the department have been memorializing colleagues slain in the line of duty by holding a relay run that passes all the sheriff's stations in the county. At the end of each leg of the journey, the runners hand off a gold horn-shaped torch to another group, which carries on the run from there. This year there are 55 destinations where runners change.

Always a time for quiet contemplation of lost lives, this run was even more painful than usual.

"Running this is my way of showing respect for the officers who died in the line of duty," said Knudson, a deputy from the Lost Hills sheriff's station.

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