Karl Duane Simons’ two families grieved as one Friday, Oct. 18.
Five days after the Long Beach officer died in an early-morning freeway accident, more than 2,500 of his police brethren turned out for his funeral and burial.
And his family by blood and marriage – including his widow, Leslie, and their 7-month-old daughter, Katelyn – mourned the loss of their husband, father, son and brother.
Simons, 26, died instantly at 5:05 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, when his speeding Chevrolet Caprice patrol car spun out of control on the northbound Long Beach (710) Freeway, hit another car, then careened into a metal sign pole.
His two families converged on the Saints Simon & Jude Catholic Church early Friday. At 10:30 bagpipers began playing “Amazing Grace,” the plaintive wail rising into the hazy morning sky and cavernous church. Uniformed officers from all over Southern California saluted while Simons’ walnut coffin – blanketed by an American flag – was pulled from the back of a white hearse.
Inside, the Rev. Laurence Dolan asked the mourners to take note of a lighted Easter candle. It is a symbol of baptism, he said, but also a reminder of rebirth. “So Karl has come full round,” he said.
Nonetheless, Dolan said in a soft yet penetrating voice, it’s not easy to express Christian sentiments of joy when someone as young as Simons is killed. “When a man is in his 20s or 30s or teens,” he said, “it’s difficult to be happy.”
Later, following Communion, Mayor Beverly O’Neill said it is impossible to express the profound sorrow gripping Long Beach. The fact that Simons was just entering the prime of life, beginning his own family and starting a career, O’Neill said, is a reminder of the precariousness and fragility of life.
Chief of Police Robert Luman said losing an officer is a chief’s worst nightmare. Even though officers are constantly aware of the dangers that go with the job, it is still devastating when someone is killed. He noted that Long Beach went 15 years without such a loss.
“Karl paid the ultimate price,” he said, “trying to make this world a better place for the rest of us.”
Perhaps the clearest picture of Simons was painted by his partner, Officer Bill Swaim, who kept a journal about police work and his friend Karl. The crowd chuckled as Swaim told of Simons’ love of weaponry, how he carried extra guns and extra rounds of ammunition. “The higher risk, the more he seems to like it,” read one journal entry.
Once, he said, at the height of a 100-mph chase on the Artesia (91) Freeway, Simons turned to him and said, “This is the s… baby! It doesn’t get any better than this!”
And every day, he recalled, when they were ready to begin duty, Simons would say, “Let’s rock!”
Simons, he said, was a man who didn’t know the meaning of break time or slowing down. Swaim called him the “most highly motivated individual I’ve ever known,” and said he “died the same way he lived – at a high rate of speed.”
Swaim urged city officials to dedicate the North Division Substation as a memorial to Simons. “It was his station, and it has the right to bear his name.”
Officer Jim Allen recalled that people could always count on Simons to lend a hand – at work or even around the house. “If you needed someone to lean on, Karl was there.
He called Simons was a high-energy man with an infectious personality, macho and tough. “He was, and is one of the best cops I had the opportunity to work with.”
Another officer, Peter Lackovic, read a poem Leslie Simons wrote to her late husband. In it she talked of their mutual and ever-lasting love. She spoke of their dreams and the smile on his face when he left for work. She recalled that she would always tell him, “Catch a big one for me.”
Two days after her husband’s death, Leslie’s mother died from a heart attack.
After the funeral, the young widow sat under a lonely pine in a corner of Good Shepherd Cemetery wearing a simple black dress with white trim. She and Karl would have celebrated their second wedding anniversary on Oct. 22. Instead, it was a graveside ceremony, with bagpipes, a police honor guard, a 21-gun salute in three volleys, a helicopter flyover and the playing of “Taps.”
With smoke from the gun salute drifting across the green slopes of the cemetery. Leslie Simons wept quietly. Chief Luman got down on one knee and comforted her, then presented her with a token of her husband, the flag that had draped his coffin.
Simons, an Eagle Scout, was a graduate of Edison High School. He worked as a professional courier for five years until he was hired on the Long Beach Police Department. On January 18, 1993, he became a member of the Long Beach Police Academy’s Class #65. He excelled in weapons training and graduated in the top 20 percent of his class. He interest in target shooting led him to regularly be recognized as the department’s “100% Shooter” after required quarterly qualifications. Simons was well respected among his peers, supervisors and the citizens he served. He received numerous commendations from those who recognized the care and quality work that he put into all of his endeavors.
A passion for law enforcement led Simons to pursue a degree in Criminal Justice at California State University of Long Beach. While studying for one particular class, he completed a project on gangs that included videotaped interviews with gang members. He was 18 units short of receiving his Bachelor’s degree.
Simons is also survived by his mother, Claire; brother, Kevin; and sister, Denise. His father, Frederick, preceded him in death in 1982.
A fund has been established by the Long Beach Police Officers Association for Leslie Simons and her 7-month-old daughter, Katelyn. Contributions can be sent to the “Widows and Orphans Fund” in their name at 2865 Temple Ave., Long Beach, CA 90806.