Ofc. Van Derick Johnson died Wednesday, Feb. 5, when he collided with a pickup truck whose driver made a left turn in front of his vehicle while he was chasing a traffic violator. He had been patrolling Koreatown in response to citizen complaints of speeding vehicles and cars making illegal turns.
Johnson, 31, a nine-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Dept., suffered a “major chest injury,” said Cedars-Sinai Medical spokesman Ron Wise. Johnson was taken to the hospital about 6 p.m. and died two hours later.
Johnson entered the Los Angeles Police Academy on Oct. 13, 1987, where he successfully completed his recruit training.
After establishing himself as a fine officer with tremendous potential at Harbor Division, he went to work at West LA Division, West Traffic Division, South Traffic Division, and finally West Traffic Division. He had obtained his dream of becoming an LAPD motor officer.
Police Chief Willie L. Williams and Police Commissioner Raymond Fisher were with Johnson shortly after the accident, authorities said. Williams eulogized Johnson as “the ultimate cop” who set an example for all.
“In spite of the tears and the hurt,” Williams told mourners at funeral services in Trinity Baptist Church, “it is a glorious day, a very special day, because we are celebrating the life of a Los Angeles Police Department officer.”
Williams said Johnson “exemplified the ideals that we all should emulate …The memory of him will remain with all of you, with all of his colleagues and his friends and his co-workers forever.”
Johnson graduated from Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles and attended Long Beach State College. By the time he reached the age of eight, he already knew what his life’s work would be.
According to family members, he decided what he wanted to become and never wavered in his choice. He had a passion for building model police cars and it was obvious that he wanted to be a Los Angeles police officer.
A life-long love of motorcycles lead him to pursue service as a motorcycle officer. To quote Capt. Gary Williams, supervisor of the West Traffic Division, “He loved traffic and he loved motors.”
Throughout his nine-year tenure with LAPD, he received more than 50 commendations and was regarded, according to Captain Williams, as one of LAPD’s best officers. He received the Officer of the Year Award in 1994.
Off-duty Johnson also served as a private duty security officer for well known entertainment personalities, Denzel Washington being among them.
Recreationally, Johnson loved watching old “Three Stooges” films, even going so far as to name his favorite dog “Shemp.” He enjoyed traveling and just recently returned from a trip to Hawaii with his wife and several of their close friends. He was honored to be godfather to Kelsie, the daughter of his life-long best friend, Steve Saito.
Johnson is survived by his wife of six months, LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Felicia Miller Johnson; sisters Jutinna Johnson, Sharon Jackson and Marcia Withers; brothers, Stephen and Michael; grandmother, Beulah Underwood; father and mother-in-law, Willie and Iva Miller; and godmothers, Barttina Wilkin and Mary Ezell.