Just five days before Christmas, a young Oceanside Police Officer was gunned down and killed during a traffic stop in the northeast part of the city.
Officer Dan Bessant (23) was shot after responding to a request for backup call from Officer Karina Pina (28), at about 6:20 p.m. on December 20. Pina had stopped a car with six people in it for a vehicle code violation and called for backup as she questioned the occupants. Bessant arrived about four minutes later. Approximately 15 minutes into the call, several shots were fired from behind the officers at a distance of 70 to 100 yards. A single round entered the area of Officer Bessant’s left armpit, an area not covered by the protective vest he was wearing. Pina returned fire towards the source, radioed 11-99, and dragged Officer Bessant to safety providing cover until additional officers arrived.
Oceanside Fire Department arrived and immediately started to work Officer Bessant next to the car. Mercy Air arrived shortly after and flew him to Scripps Hospital in LaJolla where he was pronounced dead.
Law enforcement officers from as far as Coronado, National City and Chula Vista responded to the scene, along with sheriff’s deputies, California Highway Patrol officers, and officers from the county Probation Department, Carlsbad and Escondido.
A two block area was cordoned off and the neighborhood searched door-to-door. Witnesses reportedly directed officers to several homes on Arthur Street, which helped to identify those taken in for questioning. Sometime after 3:00 the following morning a 17-year-old reportedly confessed to the shooting. Shortly after, another juvenile was arrested. Both were booked into juvenile hall for 187 and 182 PC.
The motive for the shooting was not known, but the neighborhood, which is near the back gate of Camp Pendleton, has been the location of several gang shootings. Officer Bessant was recently assigned to work the Mesa Margarita/back gate area, handpicked by Lt. Tom Aguigui for the neighborhood policing team.
“It’s not just something anyone can go into,” Aguigui said. “You have to be motivated, proactive and have a passion for working with the community, and he had that. He was a very, very driven employee.” “Dan was one of those who would flourish wherever you put him.”
Officer Bessant was well known and well liked in the community he served. Born in Oceanside, he graduated from Oceanside High School and lived in the city with his wife, Katelyn. Bessant had recently returned to duty from paternity leave following the birth of their son, Wyatt.
On December 27, 2006, over 2,000 friends, family members, and law enforcement officers gathered at New Venture Christian Fellowship Church to honor Officer Dan Bessant. Although a solemn event, the church was filled with laughter as those who knew him best shared memories of Bessant’s life.
“He gave his life for the city he loved. Now we have to give our love and support to his family,” said Oceanside Police Chief Frank McCoy. “His life was taken with a selfish and senseless act of violence, but he died doing what he loved – trying to make his community a better place.”
The Bessant family made the following comments in the service program. “Dan was a delightful son who made his parents proud, a fun brother who never let his brother down, a friend whose friendship enriched so many, a husband whose marriage was the happy center of his life, an enthusiastic father who had just begun the role of being a great dad. He took great joy in being a police officer and was proud of the community he served. His passion for life affected everything he did and everyone who knew him. Our living tribute to Dan will be in continuing his passion for life, his sense of fun and adventure and his willingness to serve.”