REMEMBERING A FALLEN COMRADE:
BY DEPUTY RAMON ESCAMILLA
When I was an explorer at Industry Station from 1991 to 1994, I had never heard anyone mention or talk about Deputy Charles Ley . I transferred to Industry Station from Temple Station in 2005 and if you asked me then if I knew who Deputy Charles Ley was, I probably would have told you “No I don’t. What shift does he work?” I finally learned about him in 2009 when Deputies George Chavez (Now Sgt. Chavez), Jaime Ruiz, Kristian Zavalza, Hector Beltran and Lt. Art Scott constructed our memorial wall in the hallway next to DB north. At the time, the only thing I knew about Deputy Ley was that he passed away in an on duty traffic collision in 1972 while attempting to stop a speeding motorist. Every May 24th from 2009 to the present, we pay our respects to Deputy Ley by wearing our class A long sleeve uniform with tie. I wanted to learn more about Deputy Ley so I could write an article about him, but I did not know where to start. I contacted my friend Lt. David Infante and told him about my project and asked him to direct me where I could gather information about Deputy Ley. Lt. Infante told me about a website for retired department members run by retired Sgt. William “Moon” Mullen. I emailed Sgt. Mullen my request. It was simple. I wanted information about Deputy Ley from anyone who knew and worked with him. The following day, I received a response from Sgt. Mullen, advising me he sent my request to the 2800 plus members of lasdretired.org. By weeks end, I was received emails from Deputy Ley’s co-workers, academy classmates, Watch Commanders, an RTO from SCC and members of his family. The following is what they shared about Deputy Ley with me.
CHARLES OTTO LEY:
Charles Otto Ley was born on May 28th 1940 in Espanola, New Mexico. He was the second of three boys. His brother Harold was the oldest and Earl was the youngest. Charles Ley grew up in a military family which saw him moving several times throughout the United States. He went to high school in Colorado where he was a star basketball player. Charles was very tall and made the newspaper sports headlines almost weekly with his key game plays. Charles was a good athlete and very intelligent but he was not the academic type, something his basketball coach noticed about him. One day, his coach pulled him aside and questioned him about his studies. His coach told him he better do something because there was no way he would survive in life on newspaper clippings alone. Charles graduated from high school and enrolled at Nebraska State University but dropped out after a year. Charles could not see himself in school for another 4 years and coming from a military family which saw his brother Harold leave for boot camp before him, he decided to join the United States Marine Corps. Charles Ley definitely had heart and courage joining the USMC back in those days (come on, we have all seen Full Metal Jacket).
MARINE LIFE/ BECOMING A DEPUTY:
Charles completed boot camp at the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton recruit training center. He met his wife, Cecile Diane Lenderman, while stationed there. They dated and married in 1961 and spent their honeymoon at Disneyland. Shortly after, they started a family. After serving in the Marine Corps for 4 years, Charles moved his family to West Covina and began looking for work. He took an interest in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after seeing our uniform and badge, which he respected and appreciated what it stood for. Charles went to the county offices and submitted his request for employment. He went through the department’s background process and was hired in 1968. He was proud to be accepted as a candidate for the academy as this was about to be a huge step in his life. He was sworn in, read the riot act about what would happen if he misused his shiny new badge and given directions to the uniform store where he could buy his uniforms, gun and leather gear (back then new hires had to buy their uniforms and their guns and leather gear). Charles had to have his uniforms custom made due to his height (he was 6 feet 4 inches). Deputy Sheriff Trainee/Cadet Charles O. Ley #053781 entered the Sheriff’s Academy class #127 in August of 1968. He began his 4 month long training process at a Navy/USMC reserve armory in Chavez Ravine, to become a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff. While in the academy, Charles worked as hard as he could to make the grade all while putting up with the yelling from his drill instructors, Deputies Fred Faul, Ed Price and Sgt. Walt Thurner. He spent his spare time at home studying while at the same time, spending quality time with his family. Fellow classmates said Charles was a strong athletic person who never had any issues with physical training. Deputy Ley graduated from the academy in December of 1968 which was a major accomplishment for him. He was transferred straight to patrol (I can hear all the groans from the guys/ gals working Custody) after his graduation and assigned to Firestone Station.
Deputy Ley started his patrol training in January of 1969. When he completed patrol training, he worked with various partners on early morning and pm shifts. Firestone in those days, meant you worked and you worked hard. It was always busy in Firestone especially since tensions were still high in nearby Watts, just 4 years after the infamous Watts riots and because of the Vietnam War. The Black Panthers were very influential in the area and were always spreading their words of hate against the government and law enforcement. During this time at Firestone Station, it is alleged, a Black Panther member tossed a grenade over the northwest wall of the station which destroyed 5 patrol cars. Now how’s that for your first assignment? It never seemed to phase Deputy Ley. After the incident with the grenade, two new posts were built on the wall. The posts were named 10P1 and 10P2 which were 4x4 sitting platforms which allowed deputies to sit on a chair and look over the wall to keep constant vigil for other nitwit grenade throwers. Shootings were almost a nightly occurrence and when the gang members weren’t shooting at each other, they would fire at the deputies patrolling the area. Deputies were constantly in the Compton and Willowbrook area and Deputy Ley could always be found patrolling Mona park arresting crooks and gang members who were suspects in some of the shootings. Deputy Ley’s partners described him as fearless, because he was always going back to the park even after discovering some of the Black Panther members were armed with automatic rifles. Deputy Ley was always found in the station jail booking bad guys. He could also be found inside the jail breaking up fights between the prisoners. Firestone Station was more like a fort in the middle of a warzone. Deputies would pull guard duty on the roof of the station for 3 hours a night. Deputy Ley could be found on the roof many a night as well as standing guard on the wall posts. Even with chaos around him, he took bad guys to jail with pleasure and ease. He was a hard working deputy who never bragged and never let the trash talkers get under his skin. Even though he enjoyed his time at Firestone station, Deputy Ley wanted to work closer to home so he could be near his family, thus prompting him to submit his transfer to a fairly new sheriff’s station in the east end of the county called Industry.
WORKING AT INDUSTRY STATION:
Deputy Ley transferred from Firestone Station to Industry Station in the Fall of 1971. He made a name for himself almost instantly. He proved he was a hard worker who was not just assigned to Industry, but a deputy who worked at Industry. He was put in a three man rotation in the 142 car on EM shift with Deputies Bob Roane and Dick Buhler. Deputy Ley did at Industry what he had done at Firestone. He and his partners hooked and booked every night. His partners always admired how calm and collective he was. Never letting the loud mouths get under his skin. His height and demeanor could be interpreted as intimidating to the people he came in contact with. He had an eye for spotting crime and crooks on the prowl which is why he and his partners worked the burglary suppression team. Back in the early 70’s, the Bassett and west end of the City Of Industry, were mostly empty fields and scattered businesses. Anyone walking around late at night in those areas were up to no good. Deputy Ley made quick friends with his partner Bob Roane who was shorter than him. Both would sit around for hours talking about their family, work and horses. They would hang out with each other and throw back a few beers. Deputy Ley even bought a horse which he kept in his ranch style home in West Covina. He loved the southern California life style and admired how people took pride in their homes and cars. Deputy Ley was always keeping up with the yard work as well as working on his car while his wife Cecile stayed at home and took care of their children. He even participated in a Basketball league at the La Puente Recreation center where he played with fellow Deputy Ray Rodriguez (retired Homicide Sergeant). Deputy Ley was very good at the sport and never showed signs of rust. He also played on the department’s team which competed in the police Olympics. Deputy Ley’s brother, Earl would visit him every winter only to find his older brother battling a cold. His brother Charles would tell him it was caused by driving around late at night with the windows down so he could hear criminal activity and burglary alarms. Deputy Ley never let anything bother him. He took everything in stride . Life was too short to let the little things get to him. There was one time when he and Deputy Roane made an arrest and transported the arrestee in the backseat of their car. The problem was, their patrol car did not have a cage. Back in the hot years, if you made an arrest, the book man had to sit in the back seat with the arrestee. This caught the eye of their Watch Commander Lt. Don Webster (Retired Commander) who promptly reminded them of the proper procedure for transporting criminals. The Watch Commander never had to worry about Deputy Ley. He was a very gentle, low key deputy who you only had to be told once, and whatever error he may have done, would never be repeated again. He trusted Deputy Ley’s judgment which is why he never had to worry about him.
MAY 24TH 1972:
The shift began with the usual 415 family calls in West Valinda. Deputy Dan Burt (retired Commander) and his partner were handling numerous 415 calls at an apartment complex near Dalewood Av, which was a problem area. Commander Burt said he thought of Deputy Ley as a “gentle giant.” He was aggressive when it came to police work. Right around the middle of the shift, Deputies Ley and Roane responded to a call with Deputy Burt and his partner. When they went 10-98, Deputy Ley announced it was lunch time and quickly retrieved his sack lunch that his wife made for him every night. Deputy Ley and Roane would decline Deputy Burt’s invitation to join him and his partner for Code 7 at a nearby taco stand. As the shift continued, Deputy Burt and his partner made an arrest and were booking at the station when a page came over the P.A. system of a deputy involved traffic collision at the entrance of the 605 freeway and Valley Blvd. Deputy Burt stormed out of the booking area and responded Code 3 from the station. Deputy Ray Rodriguez and his partner, who were working 141 at the time, also responded to the location. As units were responding to the location, deputies began wondering who had crashed and we’re they ok. Deputy Rodriguez thought it may have been a unit from Temple station since they bordered Industry to the north. When Deputy Rodriguez entered the onramp onto the southbound 605 freeway, they saw skid marks on the roadway leading towards the embankment. They jumped out of their patrol car and ran down the embankment where they found an overturned patrol car. As Deputy Rodriguez and his partner were running towards the patrol car, they saw a stunned Deputy Roane standing next to the wreckage. Deputy Roane stared back at them in disbelief and covered in dirt from head to toe. When they asked Deputy Roane what had happened, he could barely speak. They escorted Deputy Roane back to their patrol car as they awaited CHP and fire to arrive on scene. By this time several units arrived on scene which was now chaotic. Deputy George Gomez (retired Arson Sergeant) was the second unit to arrive on scene along with his trainee. Deputy Burt arrived Shortly after and saw a truck driver parked on the side of the freeway. He believes it was the truck driver who saw the accident and called it in. No one at the scene knew Deputy Roane had climbed out of the patrol car after the accident and was sitting in Deputy Rodriguez’ patrol car which prompted a search for the missing deputy. Deputy Gomez and the others saw a body inside the wrecked patrol car but no one knew who it was. The only way to find out was to go in and pull the name tag off of the uniform which Deputy Gomez did. Everyone at the scene was shocked when they learned it was Deputy Ley who passed away in the collision. Industry station lost their most humblest and energetic deputy who wanted nothing more than to be a cop. Prior to the collision, RTO Coral Burgett heard Deputy Ley and Roane announce they were in pursuit of a speeding motorist on westbound Valley Blvd. A description of the vehicle and the license plate was never broadcasted. It is believed the vehicle they were chasing was traveling at such a high rate of speed, they were unable to transmit that information. Deputies Ley and Roane had followed every rule of the department’s pursuit policy at the time. She knew something was wrong when they did not answer their radio when she asked for an updated location.
The California Highway Patrol conducted their investigation into the cause of the accident and Homicide Detective Tony Palmer conducted his own investigation into the passing of Deputy Ley. During the investigation, they learned the patrol car entered the on ramp at a high rate of speed and lost control. Deputy Ley over corrected and spun into the gutter which caused them to roll 50 feet down the embankment where it came to rest at the Wards Duck Farm. Deputy Ley was wearing his seatbelt and had his window down while chasing after the speeding motorist. Deputy Ley was ejected from the patrol car as it rolled over. When the medical examiner arrived at the accident scene, they were assisted by Industry station deputies who helped carry Deputy Ley to the medical examiners vehicle. All of his EM shift partners were by his side that evening to pay their respects to their beloved partner. The Watch Commander called Deputies into his office to find someone to inform Deputy Ley’s wife of the accident. Protocol for informing next of kin was different then. Deputy Rodriguez told the Watch Commander, he had met Charles’ wife on a few occasions when they played basketball together. He was given the difficult task of informing Deputy Ley’s wife that her husband had passed away. Deputy Rodriguez remembers arriving at the Ley residence in West Covina at approximately 0500 hours. The kids were still asleep. When Deputy Rodriguez told Cecile that her husband had died in an automobile accident, she reacted like any spouse would. Deputy Rodriguez stayed with the family for a couple of hours as the kids, Brian age 9, Charles age 8, Mari age 6 and Kimberly age 4 began to wake up. Deputy Ley’s mother and step father were in Europe at the time of the accident. An emergency message was sent to Europe via the Red Cross , in an attempt to notify them. They received the message but by the time they did, their son had been laid to rest. Everyone at Industry station and those who worked with Deputy Ley at Firestone, were sad they had lost their friend who died so early in his life.
A LAST GOODBYE AND REMEMBERING A FATHER:
Deputy Charles O. Ley was laid to rest in the Twilight Terrace section of Rose Hill Cemetery. His brother Earl told me he had never seen such a long precession for one person, not even for a President. After the ceremony, Earl Ley told me the Sheriff’s Department went out of their way to assist the family as much as possible. A female deputy was also sent to the home to talk with the children to make sure they were ok. During a conversation I had with Mari Nichols (Deputy Ley’s daughter), she shared her fond memories of her father with me. Her fondest memory was the time she was sick and her father rocked her to sleep in a reclining chair. She loved spending daddy and daughter time. With a home as full as theirs, she always loved spending time with her father. Her dad would stop by their home in his patrol while on duty and watch as all the neighborhood kids would come to check out the patrol car. Cecile Ley moved the family to Los Osos, California where her father built a home for her and the children. Her father wanted them near family so he could assist the family. The home was built on a ranch with different kinds of live stock. His wife still lives in the same home and Mari also resides in Los Osos. Deputies Charles O. Ley and Robert Roane were doing the lords work without the help of today’s modern technology we have at our disposal . It’s what they did day in and day out. They loved their job and enjoyed taking bad guys to jail. I wish I could say the motorist they were chasing was eventually apprehended and given a lengthy prison sentence, but I can’t. The Ghost car suspect was never identified or found. I like to believe he or she will see judgment day soon if they haven’t already. If that day has already come and gone, I’m sure Deputies Ley and Roane let that person know just how much pain they caused to a lot of people. Deputy Robert Roane returned to work after the accident and always talked about his partner Charles with everyone he worked with. He retired from the department in the late 80’s as a detective at Industry station. He passed away some time ago from injuries he sustained in an airplane crash in the Midwest. Deputies Ley and Roane are sorely missed. God bless you both