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Technical Reserve Officer Stuart Shigeru Taira
(Dec. 25, 1954 – March 1, 1983)

Southern California experiences its share of forces of nature -- devastating earthquakes, massive wildfires, floods, mud slides and high winds. Rarely, however, does it experience a tornado.

On Monday, Feb. 28, 1983, a severe winter storm moved in from the Pacific Ocean to the Los Angeles area, bringing high winds and torrential rains from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border. Several homes in Malibu were destroyed, including an oceanfront cottage owned by tennis star Billie Jean King, and neatly three dozen homes were damaged in and around Santa Barbara, where officials ordered an evacuation of the city’s harbor and low-lying areas.

Nearly five inches of rain fell during a two-day period -- more than one-third of the average rainfall for an entire year in Los Angeles -- and dozens of homes, piers, off-shore oil derricks and oceanfront roads were damaged or destroyed in the storm.

In Santa Monica, pounding surf and waves as high as 18 feet tore away a 400-foot section of the city’s pier, and pulled two massive cranes, a large refrigerator truck and three cars into the ocean.

In Orange County, piers in Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and San Clemente were damaged by the rain and high winds.

In San Diego County, sheriff’s deputies in inflatable rubber rafts evacuated 40 homes in Imperial Beach, as the Tia Juana River overflowed its banks.

At least five people were killed as a result of the storm, including Gerald L. Ashford, a 37-year-old mechanic for the Los Angeles Department Water and Power, who was electrocuted while attempting to repair storm damage, and three people who were killed when their car skidded out of control and crashed on a rain-soaked highway in Imperial County.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 1, 1983, a freak tornado touched down in South-Central Los Angeles, hitting a three-square-mile area and causing an estimated $15 million in damage, primarily to businesses and private homes, knocking down concrete walls and snapping power poles like matchsticks in the area south of the downtown.

After the tornado passed, the LAPD sent up a helicopter to survey and document the damage. On board were the pilot, LAPD Sgt. Ronnie Hansen, 35, an 11-year veteran of the department; an observer, LAPD Officer Tom Brooks, 34, a six-year department veteran; and a videographer, 28-year-old LAPD Reserve Officer Stuart Taira, an employee of the city’s communications department who was assigned as a photographer with the LAPD’s Air Support Unit.

After recording the storm damage, the blue-and-white Bell Jet Ranger helicopter landed in the parking lot of a joint police-fire command post at Broadway and 51st Street at about 7 p.m. While on the ground, the officers in the helicopter received a report of a nearby burglary in progress. The suspected burglar was on the roof of the building, and they were dispatched to investigate.

Shortly after the helicopter took off, it struck a power line and fell back to the ground. One of its landing skids partially collapsed, the tail crumpled, and the helicopter tilted to one side while its rotors continued to spin. Taira was able to escape the crash, but Hansen and Brooks remained inside the downed craft.

Instead of running to safety, Taira looked back and saw his fellow officers still inside the wreckage of the helicopter and apparently injured, and he rushed back to the crash scene to assist them. The spinning helicopter rotor hit Taira in the head, killing him.

Hansen and Brooks were both taken to Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, where they were initially listed in serious condition, but both recovered from their injuries.

Stuart Shigeru Taira was born Dec. 25, 1954, in Los Angeles. He graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1973, and had been working for the LAPD for three years at the time of his death.

He was survived by his parents, Kotaro and Kieko Taira, and his siblings, Steven, Ricky, Carrie and June.

In 1984, Taira was posthumously awarded the LAPD’s Medal of Valor -- the department’s highest honor, awarded to officers who distinguish themselves by conspicuous bravery or heroism above and beyond the normal demands of police service. To be awarded the Medal of Valor, an officer would have performed an act displaying extreme courage while consciously facing imminent peril.

Reserve Officer Taira is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, with his father, Kotaro Taira, who died a month after his son, at the age of 64.

At Tiara's graveside memorial service, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates said of Taira, “He said, ‘I want to serve.’ And he did. And he served well.”

In June 2021, the LAPD unveiled a new memorial plaque on a granite stone at the Los Angeles Police Academy, in recognition of the department's reserve officers and police volunteers, and in honor of the reserve and war emergency officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. The memorial currently contains the names of three officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, including Taira.

There is also a separate memorial plaque at the Police Academy for Taira.

Technical Reserve Officer Taira’s memorial sign is located at the northwest corner of Broadway and West 52nd Place.

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