A 47-year-old sheriff's sergeant who died after his patrol car crashed in Compton had suffered a heart attack, the coroner's office reported Wednesday.
The crash occurred around 5:20 a.m. Monday at Myrrh Street and Willowbrook Avenue. Sgt. Al Lopez, a 26-year veteran of the department, died at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, according to the sheriff's department.
An autopsy determined that Lopez had suffered a heart attack, and his death was listed as the result of natural causes, said coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter.
Lopez, who had transferred to the sheriff's Compton Station about a year ago, is survived by a wife and two adult children. Funeral services were pending.
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"It is a tremendous loss to all of us," Sheriff Jim McDonnell told reporters gathered outside the hospital following Lopez' death.
Lopez had gotten into his patrol car to assist other deputies who were involved in a pursuit of a stolen car, McDonnell said. However, the pursuit was called off about the time that the sergeant was pulling out of the parking lot of the Compton Station, McDonnell said.
A short time later, about 100 yards away, the patrol car crashed into a wrought-iron fence, McDonnell said. The chase had been called off for safety reasons, in part because of the rainy weather, the sheriff said.
The loss was another blow for a department still reeling from the Oct. 5 on-duty killing of Lancaster Station Sgt. Steve Owen.
"Mourning the loss of one fallen brother is hard enough," said Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association President Brian Moriguchi. "But two in the span of three weeks seems unbearable."
"This is when the department and this union truly feels like a close-knit family. We'll grieve together but we'll also stand firmly for those left behind ...," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Lopez family, including his wife and children, along with many colleagues and friends on the department."
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs also issued a statement mourning Lopez's death.
"All of our ALADS members will be grieving the loss with Sergeant Lopez's family members, friends, and fellow deputies. We would ask everyone to keep the men and women in law enforcement in your thoughts and prayers."