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Slain Officer Died Within a Minute, Authorities Say

Shooting: Investigator had no way of knowing suspect was inside Chatsworth warehouse, according to police.

May 30, 1997|JILL LEOVY and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

CHATSWORTH — Despite repeated rescue attempts by colleagues, the Glendale police officer who was ambushed and shot by an attempted murder suspect in a dark Chatsworth warehouse died in less than a minute, authorities said Thursday.

Officer Charles Lazzaretto, 30, had no way of knowing the suspect was even in the warehouse--let alone hiding in the pitch black--when he entered, Glendale Police Chief James Anthony said Thursday.

Israel Chapa Gonzalez, 28, opened fire immediately and Lazzaretto quickly died, police said.

"They had no reason to think he was there," Anthony said. "They thought they'd check the warehouse, one last place, and then go home if he wasn't there."

The Glendale investigators were following up on the alleged attempted murder earlier in the day of Gonzalez's girlfriend, authorities said. The investigators had already been to one address and were merely attempting to survey the warehouse when the shooting began. The violent siege ended eight hours later when Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officers stormed the building and found Gonzalez dead.

New details of the shootings inside the Variel Avenue adult entertainment warehouse, in which two LAPD officers were also wounded, emerged Thursday:

* The Los Angeles County coroner's office confirmed Gonzalez committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth.

* The two Los Angeles police officers wounded when they tried to rescue Lazzaretto knew they were walking into the "kill zone" when they tried to reach the officer, and were aware they would very likely be shot, sources said. Kevin Foster and Jude Bella told fellow officers that they could see Lazzaretto's legs on the warehouse floor and had tried to save him. That plan was foiled when Gonzalez opened fire, striking both.

* Gonzalez, who had his own semiautomatic handgun, also fired at police with Lazzaretto's service revolver, sources said.

Glendale police, city officials and residents continued to mourn the loss of Lazzaretto, the father of two boys and husband of a part-time police dispatcher. A public memorial service will be held Monday in the Liberty Court at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills, according to Sgt. Rick Young of the Glendale Police Department.

A steady stream of flowers, cards and well-wishers poured into the Glendale police station. The city of Glendale will recognize Lazzaretto today during dedication of the Glendale Veterans' Memorial. The ceremony at Isabel Street and Broadway had been scheduled weeks ago to honor war dead, but officials now want to recognize Lazzaretto as well because he was in the Marine Corps reserves.

Glendale Officer Carla Webster, a friend of the Lazzaretto family, said the officer's widow, Annamaria, is surrounded by friends, family and police officers. "She's OK because there is always someone with her," Webster said. "Her mother slept over last night, her father will sleep over tonight."

Foster and Bella continued to recover well at a local hospital, where they received visits from LAPD officials as well as Glendale police and relatives of Lazzaretto.

Employees at the Chatsworth warehouse of the adult entertainment company, Michael Collins Inc., expressed sorrow for the deaths of Gonzalez and the Glendale officer. The employees said Gonzalez was a good worker and had never been violent.

Inside the cavernous warehouse, a platform could be seen above the offices and hallway. It was from that perch, authorities said, that Gonzalez opened fire on the officers.

Gonzalez apparently heard the officers attempting to gain entrance into the warehouse then began shooting as they walked down a hallway and entered. Lazzaretto, who was not wearing a bulletproof vest, was first, followed by a company employee and Glendale Investigator Art Frank.

Glendale Chief Anthony also said he saw no problem with the tactics used by the two Glendale investigators. "A lot of occasions when a plane goes down, people talk about pilot error," Anthony said. "I can tell you there was no pilot error here."

Anthony said the investigators were attempting to get "the lay of the land" at the warehouse and believed they would have to return.

Instead, Lazzaretto was shot shortly after 11 p.m. The two others ran out, and Frank called for backup assistance. The LAPD officers quickly arrived, entered through the front door and formed a plan to rescue Lazzaretto and distract the gunman, sources said.

The others fired their weapons as Bella and Foster, former Police Academy classmates who have worked two years for the LAPD, attempted to bring out Lazzaretto. But sources said Gonzalez began shooting at the two officers--hitting them in the lower forearms and wrist.

The only light in the warehouse was the muzzle flash from Gonzalez's gun, police said.

It was not until about 1:30 a.m. that SWAT officers--two of whom fired into the pitch-black warehouse--got to Lazzaretto. The SWAT officers then tried to capture Gonzalez, first with bullhorns, then flash grenades and tear gas.

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