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Hero's Farewell for Burbank Officer

November 22, 2003|Patricia Ward Biederman | Times Staff Writer

Under gray skies, slain Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka was remembered Friday as a hero, a cop's cop and an easygoing prankster.

More than 2,000 police officers, sheriff's deputies and firefighters stood in silence throughout the two-hour service at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, as friends and colleagues lamented the death of the 26-year-old rookie, the son of veteran Los Angeles Police Det. Michael Pavelka.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was among those who came to honor the young officer, the first to be shot and killed in the line of duty in the 82-year history of the Burbank department.

"We shouldn't have to be here," said Pavelka family pastor Kurt Fredrickson, his voice breaking. "Parents are not supposed to bury their son.... Criminals are not supposed to win a round."

Pavelka, who joined the Burbank force earlier this year, was fatally shot Nov. 15 after responding to a call for backup from Officer Gregory Campbell, 41. In the gunfire that followed, a suspect was killed and Pavelka mortally wounded. Campbell, who also was shot, remains hospitalized.

Suspect David A. Garcia is still at large.

Burbank Police Chief Tom Hoefel said he thought he had the best job in the world until last Saturday. Besides praising Pavelka, Hoefel described a fun-loving young man who lived full out and had a knack for charming his way out of trouble.

"I will tell you, Matt didn't exactly sail through our testing process," Hoefel said. Pavelka was late for his physical agility test, which normally means an automatic disqualification. But because of Pavelka's "sparkle," he was allowed to continue, Hoefel said.

The tall redhead was so nervous during his required polygraph test that the officer administering it asked him what was wrong.

"This job means the world to me," Pavelka answered. "I just don't want to let anyone down."

"He never let anyone down," Hoefel said, noting that "every day police officers put on their guns and their vests and their equipment and go out and fight crime."

Pavelka's loss and sacrifice "will make us stronger and better and bring us closer together," Hoefel said.

The memorial included a piper playing "Amazing Grace" and a final flyover by police helicopters that ended with one chopper peeling off in the "missing-man formation."

The hearse carrying Pavelka's body was preceded by an officer leading a riderless horse, bringing to mind President John F. Kennedy's autumnal funeral 40 years ago.

Though ritual reminded that Pavelka died a hero, the memorial was also filled with evidence that he had lived fully.

Officer Edgar Penaranda, who oversaw Pavelka's field training, said the young officer once arrived in court, late as usual, wearing a black leather jacket, "a funky tie" and a spiky hairdo. When he slipped on Madonna-style glasses, Penaranda told him: "Matt, you look like Shaft, but with a carrot top."

Pavelka asked his mentor who Shaft was.

"We come from all over to mourn the loss of a young brother, a rookie, son of a 30-year veteran," Penaranda said. "It makes no difference where we're from or how long we've been on [the force]. We all became officers for one simple reason: justice."

Pavelka "allowed no time to go unlived," said Penaranda, who urged his fellow officers to "saddle up and ride hard. Carry with you Matty's dreams and hopes. He will be your motivation."

In addition to Pavelka's father and mother, Billie Sue, his brother Nick and his grandmothers, his former wife and his girlfriend mourned him.

"You were the love of my life," said girlfriend Jessica Di Cristina, who remembered how he would sing and dance for her whenever she asked.

"I put on your cologne just to feel close to you again," she said.

She said Pavelka was her hero, who would always be present, "for nothing loved is ever lost."

"You are in my heart forever, baby," she said.

Family friend Art Miller recalled that, as a teenager, Pavelka and a buddy slipped away from the guided tour at Universal Studios and were caught in the "Back to the Future" clock tower.

When a security guard questioned Pavelka, "Matt couldn't remember his first name, but he was very, very sure of his last name, which was Smith," Miller said.

Pavelka was a success in every aspect of his life, Miller said. He cited Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition: "To laugh often, and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a redeemed social condition, or a job well done; to know even one other life has breathed because you lived; this is to have succeeded."

A fellow police officer sang Sarah McLaughlan's words: "in the arms of the angels, may you find some comfort here."

The ceremony's final music was Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door": "Mama, take the badge off me/ I can't use it anymore ... "

After the American flag from Pavelka's casket was folded and presented to his parents, Schwarzenegger knelt to present them with the California state flag.

And over the loudspeakers came the last call for Officer Pavelka, a brief, tape-recorded account of how he lived and died as it might be broadcast over the police radio. The heartbreaking final words: "Officer Matthew Pavelka ended watch Nov. 15, 2003."

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