Hundreds of people gathered at a memorial service Thursday morning to mourn and pay their last respects to a decorated veteran LAPD officer who was killed in the line of duty in a Beverly Hills traffic collision last week.
The memorial service for Officer Nicholas Choung Lee, 40, was held inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.
Lee’s flag-draped coffin arrived shortly before 8:45 a.m. and was carried inside by officers.
Gov. Jerry Brown, state Attorney General Kamala Harris, and a number of city leaders and officials – including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and police Chief Charlie Beck – were also in attendance.
Garcetti and Beck both spoke at the service.
“We mourn a great man today,” said Garcetti, who was the first to speak. “We look up to Nick. And we see an angel soaring above this city of angels.”
Beck, who spoke next, said that Lee represented the best of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“He was one of us. He was the best of us,” Beck said.
Addressing Lee’s parents, Beck said he couldn’t imagine the pain they were going through.
“I have the same nightmare as you had: losing children to this profession. But now you live the nightmare. And I’m so sorry,” Beck said. “Your sacrifice and your work in raising Nick to be the great young man he was will be forever recognized.”
Lee’s commanding officer, Capt. Peter Zarcone, said he knew from the moment he met Lee that the officer was someone special. He said Lee “exuded confidence and professionalism all the time.”
But the thing Zarcone said he was most proud of about Lee was that he was a great family man.
“He had his priorities straight,” Zaronce said.
“I would like his family to know that the Hollywood Division loved and respected Nick,” he said, getting choked up. “We miss him terribly, and would like them to know that we will always be there for them.”
In addition to his parents, Lee is survived by his wife, Cathy Kim, their two daughters, Jalen, 13, and Kendall, 6, and his brother Danny, who delivered the final eulogy.
“I wish I could have one more chance to talk to him,” he said through tears. “I’ll miss your talks about life, about our fears and dreams, about what it takes to be a man. I’m sad that we will never see each other again in this lifetime. I love you Nick.”
He remembered his brother as a family man who adored his daughters.
“Your father is your guardian angel. And he’ll watch over you and your mother,” he said, addressing the two young girls. “He loved you both so much.”
A procession to Lee’s grave site at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale followed the church memorial. Hundreds of uniformed officers stood on the grass as the family gathered at the grave.
On Wednesday night, friends, family members and fellow officers attended a rosary service in Koreatown for the fallen officer.
Lee died Friday morning after the patrol car he was riding in collided with a big rig at the intersection of Loma Vista Drive and Robert Lane, according to the Beverly Hills Fire Department.
He was the first LAPD officer to die while on duty since SWAT Officer Randal Simmons was killed in 2008.
Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1973 and moved to the United States when he was 6, according to the LAPD. He graduated from University High School in West L.A. in 1991 and Cal State University, Fullerton in 1996.
The veteran officer had been with the department for 16 years, serving in the Van Nuys, Wilshire and Hollywood areas, the department said. He received more than 70 commendations during his career.
The exact cause of the crash that killed Lee remained under investigation, but a preliminary report indicated that the truck’s brakes may have failed.
A rookie female officer — identified only as Stephanie — was also in the patrol car when it crashed. She was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and was released Saturday night, LAPD spokeswoman Rasario Herrera said.
She was in attendance at Lee’s memorial service, Garcetti and Beck said.
The male truck driver was also taken to the hospital with non life-threatening injuries, authorities said.
Shortly before he died, Lee appeared in a YouTube video that the LAPD made — along with other law enforcement departments across the country – to fulfill the birthday wish of a 7-year-old Rhode Island boy battling leukemia..
A fund has been set up at the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union to assist Lee’s family.