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Slain Officer Remembered as a Rising Star in Glendale

2,000 Attend Services for Investigator Killed in Ambush

June 03, 1997|JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As one of the wounded officers who tried to save him looked on, Glendale Police Investigator Charles "Chuck" Lazzaretto was remembered Monday as the best his department had to offer, a man who would have become chief had he not been ambushed by a gunman.

About 2,000 people, including police officers from across California, attended services for Lazzaretto, 30, the father of two small boys. He was shot to death late May 27 in a Chatsworth warehouse while investigating a domestic violence case.

"He was . . . the essence of what a police officer is supposed to be," said Glendale Police Chief James E. Anthony.

The memorial followed a private Mass earlier in the day in which Cardinal Roger M. Mahony comforted Lazzaretto's widow, Annamaria, a part-time police dispatcher whom Lazzaretto met on the job.

Present for the church service were LAPD Officers Kevin Foster, 24, and Jude Bella, 26, who were shot while trying to rescue Lazzaretto. Bella, who was shot five times, was transported to the private ceremony in an ambulance and then whisked back to the hospital.

Foster, who was shot in the arm, attended both the Mass at Incarnation Catholic Church in Glendale and the memorial service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills.

Lazzaretto's death has been felt deeply in the small Police Department in which he worked and among residents in Glendale, which has not seen an officer slain since 1915.

"When it's a policeman, you feel it's a good friend," said Jean Ogawa, 74, a Glendale resident who joined a somber crowd on the procession from the church to Forest Lawn.

"I am very depressed," Sophia Hearty, 50, said as she watched the silent mourners go by. "Here I'm just working as a bookkeeper. But he was a policeman. He was out protecting people. And now he's dead," she said.

"You always look back and say, 'Why?' " said Dorothy Meyer, 63.

Tightly clutching the hand of Lazzaretto's mother, Nan, Annamaria Lazzaretto took several deep breaths as she watched the casket taken into the Liberty Court at Forest Lawn. As she waited, she alternately sobbed and smiled at the police officers who came to comfort her.

Lazzaretto and his partner, Investigator Art Frank, had gone to a Chatsworth warehouse looking for suspect Israel Chapa Gonzalez, 28.

Gonzalez was suspected of seriously beating his 25-year-old girlfriend and shooting her with a stun gun.

A warehouse employee told them Gonzalez wasn't there, so the two officers got permission to walk through the building to learn the layout in case they had to return.

A few paces into the warehouse, they were ambushed by Gonzalez, who was hiding in the dark with a gun. Lazzaretto was shot several times and is believed to have died almost immediately. Foster and Bella, called to the scene as backups, were wounded by gunfire when they tried to rescue Lazzaretto.

After a two-hour standoff, Gonzalez put his gun in his mouth and committed suicide, the coroner's office said. Gonzalez was buried Monday in San Antonio, where relatives expressed sorrow for Lazzaretto's widow and family.

Frank, Lazzaretto's partner, spoke at the memorial Monday. "Chuck's death has made me realize how fragile life is. It can change at any moment," he said.

Speaking between long pauses to collect himself, Frank said one of Lazzaretto's last acts was to call his wife and tell her he would be home late. Frank recalled that Lazzaretto told his wife he loved her before hanging up the phone.

As the pair drove to Chatsworth in search of Gonzalez, he said, Lazzaretto jokingly laid out plans for covering his frontyard with asphalt so he would never have to do yard work--a bit of whimsy typical of the investigator's high spirits, both on and off duty.

"He taught us, no matter how low you feel, the world is still full of good people," Frank said.

Other colleagues remembered him for his courtesy, his sense of humor and his deep commitment to his family.

"Chuck made it seem so simple, but it was really very complex," said Glendale Officer David Buckley, a former partner.

Chief Anthony recalled how a crime victim who had been interviewed by Lazzaretto later called to say Lazzaretto had treated her "like a close friend."

"In time, he would certainly have had my job," the chief said.

After the service, a color guard presented Annamaria Lazzaretto, whose two boys, Andrew and Matthew, joined her midway through the service, with an American flag.

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