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RANCHO PALOS VERDES — Gardena Police Officer Toshio Hirai, 34, was laid to rest last Friday following an emotional memorial service held outdoors at Green Hills Mortuary and Memorial Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Gardena city buses shuttled mourners from the police headquarters to the cemetery, where a giant American flag was held aloft between two Fire Department ladder trucks.
“I’m going to miss you, Toshio,” said Gardena Police Chief Thomas Kang. “Your contagious smile, your wonderful laughter. You gave your mind, body, and soul to all of us.”
The chief recalled their first meeting, when Hirai asked to join Kang on a ride-along.
“He was thinking about becoming a police officer. He wanted to make a difference in this world that we live in.”
Hirai was en route to work about 7:50 a.m. on Nov. 14 when he collided with a vehicle at Western Avenue and 238th Street in Harbor City. He died the following day, leaving behind a wife and 2-year-old son.
Kristen Hirai remembered her husband as a hero and her best friend.
“Leadership is not about being the best, it’s about making everyone else better. So I hope (to) draw on his strength,” she said. “To leave my son to be the best man he can be, just like Toshio was — and will forever be — our hero.”
Hirai was a 12-year veteran of the police department and a member of its SWAT team. He also had his commercial pilot’s license and volunteered to fly organ donations.
His parents Brigitta and Isao Hirai joined Kristen and grandson Takeo to express their gratitude for the support the family has received. Isao Hirai built the Ellison Onizuka monument in Little Tokyo.
Brigitta said, “As parents we always think we will be the ones to go first, but then suddenly it hits the heart. Isao said cherish every day as if it would be the last one. And I would add our gratitude that we had Toshi for 34 years.”
Rev. John Iwohara of Gardena Buddhist Church offered prayers and a Dharma message for the fallen officer.
Gardena Mayor Tasha Cerda shared that Hirai, who spoke five languages, served as a translator when the City Council visited sister city Ichikawa in Chiba Prefecture.
“Toshio enjoyed life. He did what he loved. He could fly a commercial plane and he was a judo master. We literally had our very own James Bond from Gardena.” Cerda said. “In Hollywood they have 007; here in Gardena, we will never forget our 381, Officer Hirai.”
Donations to assist the officer’s family can be made online at
https://999-gardenapoa.firstresponderprocessing.com/. The Gardena Police Officers’ Association, in partnership with the 999 Police & Sheriff Foundation, created the web page, which is the only legitimate online donation site. As of Friday morning, about $76,000 had been raised, with a target goal of $125,000.
Also, checks to assist the officer’s family, made payable to the Gardena Police Officers’ Association (GPOA), can be mailed to or dropped off at: Gardena Police Department, 1718 W. 162nd St., Gardena, CA 90247.
All donations are tax-deductible.