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Embattled Ex-Fire Chief Kills Himself

August 28, 1996|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RIVERSIDE — No one had ever served longer as the fire chief of Ontario than David R. Lee. He retired last year after 33 years with the Ontario Fire Department, including 17 years as chief.

Earlier this month, solemn city officials announced that $60,000 was discovered missing from the Fire Department since 1992--and that Lee had admitted he took it for himself.

Then before sunrise Tuesday, Lee, 56, drove to the back parking lot of an Ontario mortuary and killed himself, authorities said. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound; a small-caliber shotgun was found alongside his body, said Ontario Police Det. Mike Macias.

In a news conference two weeks ago, Ontario City Manager Michael O'Connor said officials had just discovered that $60,000 in state funds that were transferred to a Fire Department account in 1992 had been withdrawn shortly after the transfer.

Lee had requested the money, administered by the state Department of Education, to offset department costs of training firefighters. Two weeks after the funds were transferred from the state, they were supposed to be transferred again, from a Fire Department account to a different city account.

"The funds . . . were never actually deposited with the city of Ontario and were, in fact, illegally diverted [by Lee] for his own personal use," O'Connor said in his Aug. 15 statement.

"The city has recently completed a thorough investigation of the matter. Mr. Lee has been cooperative and has formally admitted his illegal actions to our Police Department," O'Connor said at the time. "Arrangements have been made for repayment of the funds taken." However, officials are now not sure about the status of that repayment.

Lee, who lived in Upland, was married and had three adult children from a previous marriage.

The Police Department had not yet forwarded its case to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office, said Macias. And now, he said, the case is closed with Lee's death.

"He did make a statement to us that he had taken the money, but the reason? He didn't give us one," the detective said. "That's a secret he's taken to the grave."

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