By John Scheibe
Ventura County Star
Sep 15, 2008
Los Angeles police Officer Laura Gerritsen rushed to the Metrolink crash in Chatsworth Friday afternoon along with hundreds of her fellow officers, unaware that her best friend and co-worker was among the dead.
It was only later, said Gerritsen's father, John, that his daughter realized that Spree DeSha, 35, was likely on the train. DeSha's uniformed body was found in the lead passenger car, the one that suffered the most damage in the crash.
Gerritsen said his daughter helped remove DeSha's body from the crumpled train car late Friday evening. "The body was draped with an American flag as they took her out," said Gerritsen, his eyes welling in tears, as he stood in the front yard of the one-acre lot in Simi Valley where DeSha lived with his daughter.
Gerritsen said his daughter was too overcome with emotion to make a public statement about DeSha on Saturday. A phalanx of Los Angeles police officers stood alongside the derailed train under flood lights Friday night waiting for DeSha's body to be removed.The body was put in an ambulance and taken to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, Gerritsen said.
At a news briefing on Saturday, Los Angeles Police Department First Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell wore a dark band across badge in remembrance of DeSha. "She sat in the first (car) as a matter of practice so if someone came on the train and was disruptive she'd be in a position to handle it," he said.
DeSha joined the LAPD in 2001, said Karen Smith, an LAPD officer and spokeswoman for the department. DeSha had worked at the North Hollywood Division and had transferred last week to the department's operations division in downtown Los Angeles.
"Enough cannot be said about the quality of her character," Gerritsen said, as he petted DeSha's brown Doberman pinscher. John Manchester, who lives next door to Gerritsen and DeSha, said the two women have been "excellent neighbors."
"They've always been very nice and caring people," said Manchester, as he stood in his front yard next door to where DeSha lived. Marian Bowman, who lives directly across the street from DeSha's home, said DeSha "was a really good person."
"It's hard to believe she's gone," said Bowman as she sat inside her living room Saturday afternoon. "Her folks are flying out here now from Tucson," John Gerritsen said.
Tim Sands, President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said in a statement on Saturday, "Officer Desha will be missed by all of us and especially by her colleagues in the Office of Operations." said Tim Sands, president of the Police Protective League.