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Olympic diving champ Sammy Lee disoriented but safe when found

April 02, 2013|By Robert J. Lopez
  • Two-time Olympic diving champion Sammy Lee is shown in 2011.
Two-time Olympic diving champion Sammy Lee is shown in 2011. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)

Two-time Olympic diving champion Sammy Lee was slightly disoriented but was in good condition when he was found in Pico Rivera, authorities said Tuesday night.

The 92-year-old Lee, who suffers from dementia, drove through at least three Southern California counties before he was found about 9 p.m. Tuesday by deputies who responded to a report of a traffic hazard, authorities said. He left his Huntington Beach home Monday afternoon.

Lee was reportedly swerving through traffic in his Mercedes and was stopped near a curb when he was found in the 8400 block of Washington Boulevard in Pico Rivera, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.

Lee drove from Huntington Beach to Mojave to Studio City and then to Pico Rivera, authorities said.

He left his home Monday about 3 p.m. to go swimming at Los Caballeros Racquet & Sports Club in Fountain Valley, which was his common practice. 

Police said that Lee purchased gas in Mojave about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. He was driving his tan 2011 Mercedes 300 with a California license plate that says "2 Golds."

Investigators traced Lee's credit card purchases and determined that he purchased gas again about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Studio City, Lt. Gary Faust of the Huntington Beach Police Department told The Times.

He said that the Los Angeles Police Department was alerted and that officers went to the gas station. But Lee had gone.

"The LAPD verified he was there," Faust said.

Lee is the son of Korean immigrants and won the gold on the man's platform at the 1948 London Games, becoming the first American of Asian descent to win a gold medal. He won again in Helsinki in 1952 at the age of 32, becoming the oldest diver to take home the gold.

Born in Fresno, Lee was raised in Highland Park in Los Angeles and attended Franklin High School. In 2011, he was inducted into the L.A. Unified School District High School Sports Hall of Fame. 

Lee overcame prejudice and discrimination on his way to Olympic gold. He told The Times in 2011 that he was forced to practice at the Brookside Pool in Pasadena only on Wednesdays -- when it was open to non-whites on the day before it was drained and refilled.

He also recalled being told by a high school administrator not to run for student body president because his school had never elected a non-white candidate. Lee said he won and recalled explaining his victory to the administrator. 

"I said, 'My fellow classmates do not look at me as Korean. They look at me as a fellow American.' "

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Twitter: @LAJourno

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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