*Updated 4:20 pm
One of the last men that Alhambra officer Ryan Stringer spoke to was a homeless man collecting cans.
Alejandro Lopez was doing his usual pre-dawn sweep of the cans left behind from Alhambra Saturday nightlife when the young patrol officer slowed his vehicle and asked how he was doing. It had not been a good night, and Lopez, who sleeps under stairs near Main Street, explained the pickings were slow. Fifteen minutes later Lopez heard a crash and when he rushed over to the intersection at Garfiled Ave he saw two police cars had collided — but he was kept away from the scene. Only the next morning would he learn that the patrol officer, who he had come to like from his regular friendly greetings, was the one who had perished.
On Monday Lopez was one of many Alhambra residents and colleagues from all walks of life who expressed pain and shock at the tragic early death that befell Stringer. Responding to a reported robbery*, his 2006 Ford Crown Victoria collided with that of fellow officer Juan Carlos Mejia's 2007 Dodge Charger. Both were rushed to Huntington Memorial Hospital; Mejia remains in stable condition, but doctors were unable to save Stringer. That his death came after narrowly surviving a motorcycle accident almost exactly a year before made it all the more tragic. For those who remember him, whether they were a homeless man to colleagues on the force, the descriptions that emerged were similar: a conscientous, positive young man who was exceptionally committed to the community.
Mari Portillo, a waitress at Rick’s Diner, found out about the deadly accident when she arrived at the morning shift on Sunday. She knew immediately who Stringer was: the regular, always polite and efficient, who almost always ordered a chicken sandwich to go. Just the night before, colleagues told her, he had come in to order a last sandwich at around 8:00pm. “I felt shocked," Portillo said in Spanish. "I could not believe it."
At around 11am on Monday, Oficer Sharon Williams of Alhambra Police Department’s Crime Prevention Office had just returned from church when an ex-officer called and asked if she had heard the sad news.
She said she was devastated to hear the fate of one of the best-liked officers, one of the youngest on the force, especially knowing what he had already survived. “He bounced back, he was so happy to be back, and of course we were so happy to see him,” Williams said. “His first day he went through this whole department thanking everyone for their support. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy with a wider smile on his face."
Like most young officers, Stringer was on patrol duty, responding to dispatch when there was an incident like the accident. Williams said that Stringer would arrive early to the job — he was so eager. “Young, energetic, the kind of officer you want taking care of you when you have a problem,” she said. “He was just a really cool kid. I want my son to be like him.”
His father, Sonny, a general contractor who lives in Whittier, told KABC that this dedication to hard work started as a young man. Ryan Stringer attended Whittier Christian High School and then went onto Rio Hondo Police Academy. In 2009 he joined the Alhambra police force and last year, on the way to work, he got in a motorcycle accident. "He was not expected to live at that time. They told us he had no chance, then he came back 100 percent. In six months, he was back to work full-time," his father, Sonny Stringer, told KABC. "That was July 1st of last year, July 10th of this year, again."
Police Chief Yokoyama announced that there will be a memorial service for Stringer on Friday, who is the fourth officer to die in active duty in Alhambra and the first since 1970. When the official ceremonies are over, the young officer who left a strong impression in his brief service with the force will be missed.
Even at the carwarsh, Stringer left behind an impression. “I would see him on a weekly basis at the Alhambra carwash either in his squad car or in his personal truck,” Robert Diaz, an employee wrote in response to a Facebook request for comments. “He was always a laid back and real polite guy. Any department would be lucky to find officers like him.”
The memorial service will be a public service at 1pm at Calvary Golden Springs in Diamond Bar. Donations may be sent to the Ryan Stringer Memorial Fund care of the Alhambra Police Officers Association, Post Office Box 7339, Alhambra, Calif. 91801
*An early version of this story incorrectly reported that officers Stringer and Mejia were responding to a reported burgarly. It was a robbery. The Alhambra Source regrets the error.