By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
A special golf tournament is being planned for Sept. 9 by the Central City Police Boosters to help a Los Angeles Police Department officer who was injured while responding to a call for help in Little Tokyo.
It has been a year since LAPD senior lead officer Kyle Rice was dispatched to resolve a recurring dispute between a female shop owner and a homeless man. That call would drastically alter the officer’s life.
On July 16, 2020, Rice arrived at Azusa Street to find the two individuals yelling at each other, cursing, and gesturing. As Rice was leaving the area, a green laser beam, believed to emanate from a fourth-floor balcony of a San Pedro Street apartment, hit him in the temple.
An unidentified 45-year-old man is suspected of aiming the laser at Rice. The man was arrested last September but released without criminal charges.
“I just felt my right eye was on fire,” Rice told Eric Leonard of NBC4 News in an interview after the incident. The officer has been struggling with nerve/brain issues ever since and has been unable to return to his regular work duties.
It was the second time Rice had unintentionally made the nightly news. In 2013, CBS-LA reported that a homeless woman, Deborah Gray, was rescued by Rice and his partners Martin Garcia and Sgt. Mike Baptista when her tent caught fire.
“I was trying to get out of the (tent) door,” she said. “I couldn’t find the zipper and that’s when I heard a voice say, ‘Forget it. Come to me.’”
Rice described the incident at the time. “I reached in because I was worried for her safety. As I was pulling her out, an explosion happened.” Rice suffered first-degree burns. Gray lost most of her belongings, but her injuries were minor.
In expressing her gratitude, Gray said, “(The three officers) have a special place in my heart. Every time I see them, I’ll probably start crying but they’ll know what it is.”
Rice, a father of two, volunteers off-duty for a ministry group that advocates for people affected by homelessness and hopes that a public discussion of his injury will raise awareness about how dangerous lasers can be.
“I love our department. I love our city,” he said. “I just hope that maybe we can see that instead of hurting each other, maybe we should just start talking a little more.”
The golf tournament will be held at Montebello Country Club with proceeds going to help Officer Rice and another officer, Mario Botello, who are currently unable to return to work due to serious medical conditions occurring in the line of duty.
For information on how to donate to or sign up for the golf tournament, contact Officer Zambrano at (424) 214-9516 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.