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Start the Presses: The bittersweet end of a torturous wait

July 29, 2012|By Dan Evans

Burbank Police Officer Randy Lloyd went flying over his motorcycle's handlebars in November 2003, his tires slipping on the rubberized apron of the railroad tracks made slick by light rain.

The Nov. 15 crash near the corner of Buena Vista Street and San Fernando Boulevard would send him to the hospital, and he would take eight months to recuperate.

But Lloyd first had a job to do. He had heard the cries — wails, really — for help, understood officers were involved in a firefight at the Burbank Ramada, and knew it was bad. Really bad.

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“I considered running for it,” he said, referring to the hotel about a quarter-mile away. “I really did.”

But Lloyd stayed put, closing down the intersection and directing traffic for 90 agonizing minutes, making it possible for others to get to the scene of one of the darkest days in the history of the department. At the Ramada, officers found one of their own, Matthew Pavelka, dead, and another, Gregory Campbell, gravely wounded.

One of the men involved in the shooting, Ramon Aranda, died in the exchange of bullets. The other, David Garcia, fled on foot and escaped to Mexico, but was captured about two weeks later.

The arrest marked the beginning of a torturous wait for Pavelka's family, the Burbank Police Department and the larger community. For nearly a decade, and for more than a third of the 24-year careers of the two detectives who worked the case — Chuck Howell and Brent Dyrness — we all waited.

There were more than 50 delays in the case, and allegations of police misconduct by Garcia, further complicated by internal and external investigations of alleged excessive force stemming from the infamous, but unrelated, 2007 Porto's Bakery robbery case. Add in multiple lawsuits filed by officers against the department and the dysfunctional leadership of former Chief Tim Stehr, and you have a hot mess.

These are the weights borne by Burbank officers, the vast majority of whom are honest and hard-working: the Pavelka case, the investigations and the lawsuits.

On Tuesday, one of those weights was lifted when Garcia, 28, finally pleaded guilty. He was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But justice is complicated. It gives closure and relief, but it will always be incomplete. A 26-year-old had his life stolen from him. Regardless of what happens to Garcia, Pavelka will still be dead, and will serve as a reminder that evil exists.

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