She Was 'a Hero,' Son Says of Sheriff's Detective Fatally Struck After Helping Pedestrian in Valley Village

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The son of a sheriff's deputy who was killed by an oncoming car after she helped a senior citizen cross a Valley Village street said she died how she lived: as a hero.

Daniel Laney spoke to KTLA Monday, the day after his mother, 41-year-old Detective Amber Joy Leist, was killed near the corner of Riverside Drive and Whitsett Avenue. The off-duty detective got out of her car to assist an older woman who fell while crossing the street with a companion, and she was fatally struck while running back to her car.

"It was heroic for her to go out that way," Laney said. "I love her for that. She’s always had a kind heart."

Still, the son said, "I can’t believe this is happening right now."

Investigators believe the crash was an accident. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the light had just turned green, and the driver remained at the scene and is cooperating.

Villanueva described Leist as an "outstanding detective." She had been with the department 12 years, assigned to the West Hollywood station for the last five.

Capt. Ed Ramirez, the detective's colleague at the West Hollywood station, described her as "a ray of sunshine" who was "always looking to do a good deed."

Ramirez said Leist's empathic nature resulted in her being given a majority of the station's domestic violence cases.

Her son said she cared deeply for the victims.

"She was just a hero," he said. "She was always caring. She would always come home and talk about the victims, and how she felt so sorry for them. I’d listen."

Leist is survived by 17-year-old Daniel, as well as a 20-year-old son currently serving in the U.S. Navy. Laney said his brother is based in Norfolk, Virginia, and due to return home Tuesday afternoon.

Despite constantly going out of her way to help others, Laney said his mother was always "making sure I came first."

Monday afternoon, a makeshift memorial was growing outside the West Hollywood station, where mourners left flowers and candles. One note at the site states, "You died to help somebody live."

A law enforcement procession escorted Leist's body from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to the coroner's office Sunday evening. Her family says funeral arrangements are pending.

The community plans to gather at 7 p.m. Tuesday for a vigil at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Whitsett Avenue.

Correction: This post has been updated to correct the last name of the detective's son.

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