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Shootout Kills County Policeman

The off-duty officer was confronted by two men during a morning bike ride, officials say.

August 11, 2004|Joy Buchanan | Times Staff Writer

An off-duty Los Angeles County police officer died from gunshot wounds Tuesday after an early morning shootout just west of Compton, officials said.

Capt. Michael Sparkes, 53, was taking his regular predawn bike ride in Rosewood, where he lived, when two men confronted him about 5:35 a.m. near Redondo Beach and Avalon boulevards, authorities said.

An argument ensued, followed by gunfire between Sparkes and one of the men, according to Deputy Brian Lendman of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Sparkes was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, where he died in surgery at about 8 a.m.

It was the same hospital where Sparkes supervised a force of about 30 police officers.

"It's shocking when you lose somebody like this," Los Angeles County Police Chief Margaret A. York said at a news conference Tuesday. "Everyone expected him to show up to work today and, instead, these very tragic circumstances intervened and he died this morning."

The Sheriff's Department, which is handling the case, said detectives have gathered evidence that links two men to the shooting. Investigators searched two homes in Rosewood and Gardena on Tuesday evening, but made no arrests.

Sparkes, who was married with a 7-year-old son and a grown stepdaughter, had been on the force for three decades. He had led Harbor-UCLA's officers for the last two years. Before that, he was commander of the police unit at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.

Los Angeles County police, a force of about 460 sworn officers, are part of the Office of Public Safety and provide security for government offices, hospitals, clinics and parks.

Just hours after the shooting, Sparkes' colleagues appeared shaken by his death.

"We're all just kind of numb," said Lt. Michael Rich. "It took us by surprise."

Lt. Marc Gregory of the medical center's unit said it was hard to discuss the shooting. "He was a great guy. We're just coping."

The last time a county police officer was killed was in 1994, officials said. Officer Thomas Whorley was off-duty when he was killed in a gun battle after he interrupted a robbery at a shoe store in Chatsworth.

The Board of Supervisors adjourned its meeting Tuesday in Sparkes' memory. "It's obviously a tragedy for the county family and for his family," Supervisor Don Knabe said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends and colleagues."

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