Capt. Michael Tracy and Sgt. Thomas Vanderpool of the Palos Verdes Estates Police Department were in a work seminar at a Torrance hotel when they were shot and killed during an apparent robbery attempt on Valentine’s Day in 1994.
Thirty years later, a memorial service will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 14, to honor the officers and their years of service at St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2200 Vía Rosa, in Palos Verdes Estates.
The 10 a.m. service is open to the public, but seating is limited. A short reception will take place following the memorial service.
“Our debt to the heroic actions of Captain Tracy and Sergeant Vanderpool can never be repaid,” acting PVE Chief Luke Hellinga said in an email. “They have earned our gratitude and as we honor them on this 30th anniversary, we will never forget their sacrifice.”
Then PVE Lt. Ed Jaakola said Tracy and Vanderpool were the first in the short 23-year history of the department to be killed, according to press reports following the murders.
Retired Sgt. Rob Blee was friends with the late officers and is expected to speak at the memorial.
Blee, who retired in 2005, first met Tracy in 1976 when he was a reserve police officers and before Blee became a full-time employee.
Tracy was a family man who loved to ride his motorcycle in the desert and who was someone who laughed at his own jokes, was fun to be around and was a Budweiser fan, Blee said.
Blee said he also liked to give nicknames.
“When I started working at the police department, I was the youngest police officer working there,” Blee said in a Tuesday, Feb. 6, phone interview. “He nicknamed me Junior. To this day, there are people that call me Junior. He nicknamed lots of people and some of those nicknames are still used today with those individuals.”
Tracy, 50, was a “compassionate man” who had joined the PVEPD in 1969. At the time of his death, he was second in command of the 23-officer force.
In 1986, Tracy earned a commendation from the city for helping a mother resuscitate and revive her 3-week-old baby.
The same year, Tracy helped rescue a 1-year-old who was kidnapped by his babysitter.
Tracy, a Redondo Beach resident, was survived by his wife and three children, two daughters and a son.
Vanderpool, 57, was a Torrance resident who was a meticulous investigator.
He joined the PVEPD in 1981, following 10 years with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Vanderpool was active with the Boy and Girl Scouts and dressed as Santa Claus to deliver toys to children in need.
Vanderpool was survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.
“Vanderpool had planned to celebrate his Valentine’s wedding anniversary after a training session at the Torrance Holiday Inn, ” the Daily Breeze, a Southern California News Group publication, wrote after he was killed, “the same hotel where his wedding reception was held 36 years earlier.”
Blee said Vanderpool was a family man who loved camping.
He left the Los Angeles Police Department to start a laundromat business — only to return to law enforcement with PVE, Blee said.
“He was actually a pretty big man, and he wasn’t a youngster by any stretch of the imagination,” Blee said. “But he had a great sense of humor and he was fun to be around at work.”
Tracy and Vanderpool were among about 10 PVE law enforcement officers, including the police chief — as well as a psychologist, then-Cty Manager Jim Hendrickson and two other city employees — attending a management strategies seminar when a man dressed in a black sweat shirt, ski mask, bulletproof vest and black gloves reportedly burst into the 12th-floor Holiday Inn meeting room in Torrance and yelled, “This is a robbery.”
When Vanderpool went to confront the gunman, he was shot.
The reported gunman, David Fukuto, 32, then continued shooting, hitting Tracy.
Fukuto, according to press reports, was wrestled to the ground and subdued by officers. He died later at a nearby hospital.
The motive was robbery, according to police, and Fukuto had planned to take hostages.
While the cause of Fukuto’s death was asphyxiation, according to the LA County coroner, then-District Attorney Gil Garcetti said that the officers acted in self-defense in his death.
Thousands, including Gov. Pete Wilson, attended a joint memorial service for Tracy and Vanderpool at Rolling Hills Covenant Church.
Tracy and Vanderpool are also commemorated at the city’s Memorial Garden, which honors PVE residents who died during military service..
The Memorial Garden is at the intersection of Via Corta, Palos Verdes Drive West and Via del Puente.
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