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June 2010 SGV Tribune Pompei Article - 15yrs ago PDF Print E-mail

June 2010 SGV Tribune Article
Area plans Wednesday tribute to Officer Louie Pompei who died 15 years ago fighting crime

By Imani Tate, Staff Writer

SAN DIMAS - Louis Pompei died as he lived: protecting the public and serving victims of crimes.

On Wednesday, grateful San Dimas residents and friends from Glendora, other San Gabriel Valley police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will remember the 30-year-old officer who was killed June 9, 1995, saving a life and stopping a crime.

The tribute to Pompei, a San Dimas resident and Glendora police officer, begins at 6 p.m. in Via Verde Park in San Dimas. The park and its Louis Pompei Memorial are near the Vons market where Pompei was mortally wounded by armed men in a failed takeover robbery.

It wasn't the first time Pompei proved his mettle in times of crisis.

In 1989, he helped save the  life of a Los Angeles police officer who was having a heart attack. He later helped his fiancee, Tracey Taylor-Careaga, and her family cope with the death of her brother from cancer.

Men he'd arrested sometimes wrote him letters of appreciation, thanking him for being a catalyst in turning their lives around.

Cops and criminals nicknamed him Robocop for his efficient professionalism and persuasive ability to convince young people to get on or stay on the right path.

Pompei, the youngest of six children, was born Aug. 4, 1964, in Shenandoah, Pa., raised in Mahanoy City and earned a bachelor's in criminal justice administration from Mansfield University. He joined the Glendora force as a police officer trainee in October 1987 and was hired full-time in March 1988 after he finished Sheriff's Academy training.

He worked on patrol until he became a narcotics detective in 1992. In 1995, he was named a Glendora agent assigned to L.A. Impact, an elite drug task force of San Gabriel Valley officers and sheriff's deputies taking down major drug suppliers.

Glendora police Capt. Robert Castro and now-retired Lt. Gino Domico talked about their colleague in a recent interview that revealed their continuing anguish over Pompei's death.

"He was just a great guy, always willing to help others. He took me in after I was divorced," Domico said. "He came into narcotics as I was leaving to teach DARE."

Domico said Pompei wore a T-shirt advertising the anti-drug program when he performed search warrants.

Castro and Domico were among many who respected, liked and admired the avid L.A. Kings fan, physical-fitness buff and athlete who helped the Glendora-Monrovia-Arcadia police team complete the grueling Baker-to-Vegas Challenge Cup run and personally took second place in California Police Olympics body-building.

Domico laughed when he talked about Pompei's sense of humor and love of dogs. He regaled friends with jokes. When working the graveyard shift, he'd sometimes bring along his Doberman, Dios, as his unofficial canine patrol partner.

"Louie was trustworthy, loyal, a friend you could count on to always be there for you," Castro said, his voice catching. "Everyone liked him - veterans, young cops, management. The cadets always wanted to ride along with him. He was a man worth emulating because he was hard-working, intelligent, friendly, helpful."

Castro painfully recounted the night Pompei died.

Working undercover, he had just finished a surveillance with the task force and was on his way home. He dropped off his fiancee and went to Vons to buy dog food.

"There had been a series of takeover robberies in San Gabriel Valley markets. Louie was standing in a checkout line when a suspect produced a handgun and ordered everyone down on the floor," Castro said.

Pompei complied - until the robber began pistol whipping an employee. He then identified himself as a policeman and tried to convince the robber to stop hurting the man. The robber opened fire. Pompei returned fire but was unaware a second robber was behind him until he was shot from the back.

Shot in the chest, abdomen and leg, Pompei wounded both robbers before they escaped in a car driven by a third person. Pompei dialed 9-1-1 on a pay phone before collapsing. He was taken to San Dimas Community Hospital.

"He survived for one hour but died during surgery," Castro said softly. "They couldn't control the bleeding. He had taken direct shots in the heart. His heart was beyond repair."

Community activist Gary Enderle said local residents immediately responded with condolences to his family and co-workers and placed flowers and flags near the phone where he finally fell.

Enderle and San Dimas Marketplace director Maryann Stubblefield organized a candlelight tribute at Via Verde Park three days after Pompei's death. The memorial was attended by 200 people.

"The thing I remember most about that night was seeing two buses filled with Glendora policemen and staff pull up. They filed out, eyes still red from crying and pain clearly etched on their faces," Enderle said.

Enderle later organized development of the Louis Pompei Memorial on a strip of undeveloped park land. Nurseries, businesses, residents and police donated the materials, money and labor to complete the landscaped memorial.

Judge told pair in Pompei shooting: 'You made your choice.'

On the night of June 9, 1995, a Pasadena Police Department helicopter, which had earlier handled aerial surveillance during a L.A. Impact operation, went airborne again to search for the gunmen who'd killed Louis Pompei.

Sheriff's deputies went to Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina, where a security guard pointed out a car that had just come in with men supposedly wounded in a drive-by shooting.

The three suspects - 16-year-old Larry Hernandez and 17-year-old Robert Ramirez, the shooters inside the Vons in San Dimas, and Daniel Hernandez, 19 - were arrested at the hospital.

The older Hernandez later confessed to planning the robbery and driving the getaway car. He testified against his brother and Ramirez to avoid the death penalty allowable under the law if he was convicted by a jury.

Daniel Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. Larry Hernandez and Ramirez were tried as adults and convicted of first-degree murder of a policeman, a special circumstance that eliminated any chance of parole on their life sentences.

The two also were convicted of assaulting a Vons employee during the robbery, another special circumstance.

It took the jury of seven women and five men only three hours to convict the pair. At the sentencing, Pomona Superior Court Judge Robert Armstrong told them, "You made your choice, and you have forfeited your rights to live with free people again."

The Pasadena police helicopter will take to the air again Wednesday to honor Pompei with a flyover at the 15th annual memorial tribute at Via Verde Park in San Dimas. 

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