Flames can’t match burning spirit
January 3, 2012
Every now and then, a crime spree spreads through our communities that it is particularly hard to fathom, so senseless and random that it catches us off guard, even in a region that, sadly, is no stranger to crime.
During four days over the New Year’s holiday, we were caught in one of those moments as the Westside, West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley were unnerved by an arsonist whose motives are still to be discerned. Dozens of residential buildings and many more dozens of cars were torched. Our communities were terrorized as the arsonist lit one fire after another under the cover of darkness.
I live in one of those communities. One fire occurred less than four blocks from my home. The steady drone of sirens in my neighborhood and beyond was evidence of the mayhem’s sweep.
Throughout the night, families took turns keeping watch. Others took to Twitter with updates. Some fought fires with garden hoses. As we so often do in times of trouble, neighbors took care of neighbors and strangers joined forces.
As we’ve come to expect, our public safety organizations once again rose to the occasion. In what felt like an eternity but was just four days, a suspect was apprehended, arrested and criminally charged—a testament to the collective work of agencies operating in “unified command.” The LAPD, the L.A. County Sheriff, the city and county Fire Departments and the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives unit checked their agency seals at the door and worked as one team.
Although several millions of dollars in property damage occurred, no one was killed or injured. Since the suspect’s arrest, the fires have stopped. And for that, we owe an especially big thanks to a grateful immigrant named Shervin Lalezary.
A reserve deputy for the Sheriff’s Department, Lalezary was on just his fourth shift as a $1-per-year volunteer. He was patrolling Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood when he spotted and pulled over a minivan that reportedly was being driven by the alleged arsonist, who’d soon be taken into custody.
Lalezary came here from Iran as a child after the Ayatullah Khomeini revolution in 1979. He studied hard, went to law school and is now a successful real estate attorney practicing in Los Angeles. But personal success was not enough for him. Lalezary says he was determined to give back to the community that welcomed him as an immigrant. Through the sheriff’s reserve program, Lalezary found his way to contribute. Today, we’re all beneficiaries of his courage and commitment.
Los Angeles has a lot for which to be thankful as we begin the new year. So let me wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful one, indeed.