RAFU STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil at the Gardena Police Station on Friday evening, in memory of Toshio Hirai, 34, a motorcycle officer who died on Thursday from injuries suffered in a collision with another vehicle in Harbor City.
Hirai was critically injured about 7:50 a.m. Wednesday at Western Avenue and 238th Street as he was on his way to work, according to fire and police officials. He was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he died.
“It is very difficult and it is very heartbreaking,” Gardena Police Chief Thomas Kang said at a Thursday night news conference outside the hospital. “I shed a lot of tears today as if Toshio was my own son. It’s devastating for me.
“Officer Hirai has a passion for love of life and it’s hard for me to imagine as chief of police not having Officer Hirai here today.”
The other driver involved in the crash stayed at the scene and was talking to investigators, according to the Police Department. The driver’s identity has not been released. Neither alcohol nor drugs were suspected as factors in the crash, police said.
Hirai grew up in Gardena and attended Gardena Buddhist Church. He started working at the Gardena Police Department in 2006. Besides being a motor officer, he was on the SWAT team and was a traffic investigator.
On its Facebook page, the Gardena Police Department stated: “Toshio was one of the smartest people in the room. He spoke five languages, loved life, had the best sense of humor. He worked hard for our community. Most of all he absolutely loved and cherished his wife and 2-year-old son.”
Mayor Pro Tem Rodney Tanaka said he got to know Hirai during a sister-city visit to Ichikawa in Chiba Prefecture last year. Tanaka praised the officer as a mentor and a “policeman’s policeman.”
“He was looked up to, the kind of guy other officers tried to emulate,” Tanaka said. “When his son was born, it changed his life. When we were in Japan he talked a lot about his son and wife and how things were really good.”
Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement, “Anne and I join all Californians in mourning the loss of Officer Hirai, whose years of dedicated service to the Gardena community will always be remembered. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family, friends and fellow officers in this difficult time.”
In Hirai’s honor, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.
Hirai is survived by his wife Kristen and son, as well as parents Isao and Brigitta.
Donations to assist the officer’s family can be made by visiting the Gardena PD official donation page. GPD Lt. Steve Prendergast said it is the only legitimate online donation site for the fallen officer and his family.
Checks 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.