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A Model Cop : CHP Officer Remembered for Devotion to Job and Family

October 07, 1995|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHATSWORTH — California Highway Patrol Officer Bruce Thomas Hinman--hit 11 days ago by a suspected drunk driver as he helped a stranded motorist on the Hollywood Freeway--was buried Friday, described by friends and fellow officers as a man so driven to public service that he persisted in completing his CHP training even after two failures.

Hundreds of officers from law enforcement agencies across Southern California filled the Shepherd of the Hills Church in Chatsworth to pay tribute to Hinman, a 35-year-old father of three, remembered as a model cop whose love for his work was matched only by his love for his family.

"Bruce personified what every law enforcement officer stands for--dedication, commitment and total loyalty to the people he served," said CHP Commissioner Maury Flannigan. "He loved aiding and assisting the public, and he in fact surrendered his life doing what he loved to do best, helping people."

Hinman, an eight-year veteran, was struck Sept. 26 as he assisted the driver of a disabled car near the junction of the Ventura and Hollywood freeways. As Hinman stood in front of the vehicle, a suspected drunk driver swerved and hit the car, knocking it on top of Hinman.

Hinman was in a coma for a week before his family decided Tuesday to take him off life-support machines. He was the first CHP officer to die on duty this year, the 174th since the agency began keeping records in 1929.

The driver of the car, Ramiro Palma Rodriguez, 42, was jailed on charges of murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Investigators said his blood-alcohol content was nearly triple the legal limit.

Rodriguez suffered moderate injuries in the crash and occupants of the car that crushed Hinman had minor injuries.

Fellow officers said Friday they were comforted by the knowledge Hinman died doing what he loved. Since his early 20s, they said, Hinman wanted more than anything to be a CHP officer, despite a string of setbacks.

He failed his first attempt to pass the entrance exam to the CHP training academy. On his second try, he passed and enrolled in the academy, but dropped out after 18 weeks because of the demanding course work. On his third try, Hinman not only graduated, but was elected class president.

In remarks made to his graduating class eight years and eight months ago, Hinman paid tribute to the officers "who have paid the ultimate price--that of giving their lives in the line of duty." His class motto: "Success through sacrifice."

After graduating from the academy, Hinman faced a tough time in his first months on the job. At the end of his training period, a senior officer said Hinman was not cut out for the CHP. But Hinman begged for a second chance.

"He was given the chance and he became the finest officer I have ever had the opportunity to work with," said Officer K.C. Miller, adding that Hinman's friendliness and willingness to lend a hand extended far beyond his working hours.

Friends remembered his range of passions--from softball to fishing. "He was a pretty good softball player--or at least that's what he told people," said Cliff Bemis, television pitchman for the International House of Pancakes. The two met at one of the restaurants, which Hinman preferred over the doughnut shops favored by most cops.

Fred Goldman--the father of the slain Ronald Goldman and a relative of Hinman's widow--also attended the memorial service.

Miller recalled a recent fishing trip he and Hinman took to Lake Shasta. Although Hinman equipped himself with a range of fancy gadgets, Miller said he outfished his friend. "He was no fisherman," Miller joked during the hourlong church service.

Always, though, the remembrances returned to Hinman's dedication to his job.

His wife, one friend said, once remarked that he loved his CHP motorcycle more than her. On Friday, Hinman's helmet rested atop his casket. His riderless Harley-Davidson motorcycle was towed on a trailer behind a CHP cruiser, a wreath with his badge number affixed to the seat.

"He did love that motorcycle," Capt. Peter Mader said to Hinman's widow, Kimberlee. "But I don't think he loved it more than you."

During graveside services that included a 21-gun salute, a helicopter flyby and the ceremonial presentation of a flag to Hinman's widow, his 5-year-old twin boys--Mitchell and Morgan--squirmed in their mother's lap. His 9-year-old son Cory sat stoically next to Kimberlee Hinman, as a bugler played.

Even in death, friends said, Hinman was selfless.

His organs were donated to those in need of transplants.

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