At 8:55 a.m. on Tuesday, May 1, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Raul Gama (43) was working undercover monitoring a suspect near Oxnard Street and Rhodes Avenue in North Hollywood when a vehicle crashed into his parked surveillance van. Deputy Gama was rushed to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. His wife was airlifted by sheriff’s helicopter to the hospital so she could be with her husband. Deputy Gama later succumbed to his injuries.
The 18-year-old driver whose Honda Element struck Deputy Gama’s van was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The suspect, identified as Luis Yanez of San Fernando, was driving west on Oxnard Street when his SUV struck Gama’s van from behind.
Deputy Gama was killed on the 20th anniversary of his graduation from the sheriff’s academy. He had been assigned to Cargo CATs, a team that investigates cargo thefts throughout Southern California. At the time of the crash, he and other deputies who were stationed elsewhere in the neighborhood were observing a man suspected of receiving stolen telephones.
Deputy Gama is survived by his wife of 15 years, Sandra; and four children, Monica 13, Crystal 11, Anita 9, and Marco 3. He is also survived by his mother, Ruth Gama; sister, Hilda (Lance) Severson; and nieces, Natalie and Emily.
During a news conference following the death of Deputy Gama, Sheriff Lee Baca spoke of the loss suffered by the department. “Deputy Gama certainly was a tremendous leader,” Baca said. “We are grieving here at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” The sheriff said he was particularly moved by a conversation with Sandra Gama. She told him that her husband had recently spoken to her about the possibility that he could be killed in the line of duty. “He said, ‘If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change anything. I love what I do,’ “ Baca said.
Gama is remembered as a wonderful husband, great father, loving son and brother, true friend, and exceptional Deputy Sheriff. While assigned to East Los Angeles Station, Deputy Gama became the team leader for the City of Cudahy. As team leader, Gama introduced the “meet a deputy” program, a model of community policing now utilized by all sheriff stations to improve community relations.
Around 3,000 people attended the funeral mass for Deputy Gama at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Chino Hills on May 7th. Uniformed officers from across the country, local and state dignitaries including Governor Schwarzenegger, friends, and family all gathered to pay their final respects.
Sheriff Baca recalled presenting Deputy Gama with a Medal of Valor in 2004 for helping rescue four children and their parents after a runaway Union Pacific freight train crashed into the family’s home. In addition, he received more than 52 commendations in his career with the Sheriff’s Department.