The damage to Officer Lavoie's patrol car offers vivid evidence of the ferocious firefight. Photo: Officer Lavoie.
Super Bowl Sunday has become one of America's most popular holidays. It is an all-day event filled with parties, food, betting, imbibing, and general festivities. It is the ultimate American spectacle. And more than one sports writer has called NFL players "gladiators," referencing the life-or-death competitions of ancient Rome.
For Officer Kris Lavoie of the Ontario (Calif.) Police Department, Super Bowl Sunday 2002 would prove to be a busy one. But not in the way that most Americans enjoy. For Lavoie had no idea just how busy. Or just how much he would feel like a real "gladiator" before the day was over.
The vicinity of Holt Boulevard and Mountain Avenue in Ontario often proves to be ground zero for problems. This low-income area is a perennial destination for first-generation immigrants trying to start a new life. The neighborhood also plays host to the usual suspects running the same old scams: dope dealing, prostitution, and predatory vagrancy.
Standing out among such confines can be something of a challenge, but the driver of an older brown Oldsmobile was up to it. His jailhouse tats, wife-beater T-shirt, and beefy musculature screamed out "parolee," and Officer Lavoie on patrol in the area decided to check him out. He plugged the information into his patrol car's mobile data terminal. The Olds' license plate came back expired.
Lavoie decided to make a stop. But before he could catch up to the Olds, its driver, Tony Reyes Martinez, negotiated a series of sharp turns on nearby residential streets before suddenly pulling into a driveway, parking, exiting on foot, and heading into an adjacent apartment complex. Martinez's haphazard maneuvers suggested less an attempt to evade Lavoie than a determination to get on with a particular mission. Lavoie's curiosity as to what that mission might be led him to pull around a nearby corner where he parked and kept vigil as Martinez entered the complex on foot.
Lighting Them Up
When Martinez re-emerged five minutes later, he was in the company of another male Hispanic. The man was Carlos Omar Meza, a 23-year-old Happy Town gang member who'd earlier that day committed a shooting at the Indian Hill Swap Meet in nearby Pomona.
Lavoie didn't have that information. He just relied on his good cop instincts when he pulled in behind the Olds and followed the two men as they pulled into another apartment complex on the south side of the street and lit them up.
Seeing Lavoie's lights in the rearview mirror, the men in the Olds continued to cruise slowly down the driveway, looking right and left for God knew what before making a left turn at the rear of the apartment complex-then finding themselves boxed in.
The car's sudden stop obligated Lavoie to park at a 45-degree angle to the Olds, instead of directly behind it as he would have preferred. A mere half car length separated the driver from Lavoie, but it was the passenger, Meza, who turned and stared at the officer.
Despite the broad daylight, Lavoie turned the spotlights on the men. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, telling him there was something wrong. Seeing the passenger start to get out of the car, Lavoie hastened his own exit from his patrol unit. He stood behind the driver's side door and ordered Meza back into the car.