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Reserve deputy who caught arson suspect shuns spotlight

Attorney Shervin Lalezary gives a brief glimpse into the arrest of the man accused of setting fires across a swath of Los Angeles County. But he declines to reveal much else about himself.

January 04, 2012|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times
  • After a news conference, L.A. County reserve deputy Shawn Lalezary, second from left, smiles at his brother, Shervin, center, who arrested arson suspect Harry Burkhart.
After a news conference, L.A. County reserve deputy Shawn Lalezary, second… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

A crowd of reporters huddled outside the West Hollywood station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday evening with the hopes of answering one question: Who is Shervin Lalezary?

Ever since early Monday morning, when the volunteer deputy was vaulted into the limelight after nabbing the suspect in more than 50 fires, the attorney-by-day has insisted on a low profile.

Before he approached the cameras Tuesday, the gaggle of waiting reporters wondered aloud about the 30-year-old. "Where's he from?" asked one. "What kind of attorney is he?" asked another. "Is he single?" mused a third.

But anyone hoping the square-jawed Lalezary would talk about himself left disappointed.

He thanked his fellow reserve deputies, the Sheriff's Department and the county's residents, gave a few polite but brief responses and abruptly returned to the line of fellow volunteers standing proudly behind him. He wouldn't even tell the reporter from the local Beverly Hills newspaper whether he lived in Beverly Hills.

And he offered only a brief glimpse into the arrest the Southland has been buzzing about: As firefighters were frantically responding to 11 new arson calls early Monday, Lalezary was on his normal patrol driving down Sunset Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue.

He noticed a minivan that looked like the one the arsonist was believed to be driving. With his radio jammed, unable to easily call for backup, Lalezary pulled up alone and beamed his flashlight into the minivan. He immediately thought the driver was a match to the description of a "person of interest" in the fires: A white man with a short ponytail and a receding hairline.

"That was a big key," Lalezary said.

He flashed his patrol lights. Luckily, Los Angeles police officers in a nearby patrol unit happened to notice, pulled up and covered him from behind while he made the arrest.

"I just felt a big sense of relief," said Lalezary, who worked several days of the hunt for the arsonist, assisting deputies in their search.

Law enforcement sources told The Times that officers found "fire-setting materials" inside the minivan.

Desperate for more information, reporters at the news conference Tuesday pleaded with Lalezary to talk about his emotions (no comment), the suspect information he was working with (he demurred) and whether he felt like a hero (no response). Flanked by his beaming little brother, also a reserve deputy, Lalezary walked back into the station.

"He doesn't want to put it on himself. He wants to be part of a team. Personally, I don't get it," said one sheriff's official.

Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said that even Sheriff Lee Baca hoped Lalezary would give himself more credit. "The sheriff said, 'Put me on the phone with him,' " Whitmore said. "But when he sits in front of me and says, 'I won't want to talk about it,' what are you going to do?"

When Baca met Lalezary to congratulate him before a Monday news conference, the volunteer reserve was even slow to mention that his parents were there, seemingly embarrassed about extending the praise the sheriff was lavishing on him.

"I think it has something to do with his upbringing," Whitmore said of the reserve, who is paid just $1 a year.

One Iranian American reporter at the Tuesday news conference even asked a sheriff's official if she might coax the Tehran-born Lalezary to open up over an authentic homemade rice dish.

No word yet from Lalezary. And it's likely to stay that way.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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