On Tuesday, February 6, Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Steven Belanger died of a shooting wound he had received in the line of duty more than 23 years ago.
Reportedly this meant that, along with the tragedy of Deputy Belanger’s death, the bullet that lodged in his brain more than two decades ago produced years of health problems, along with the ongoing uncertainty about whether the potential time bomb that the deputy held inside him would finally go off.
The shooting that took Steven Belanger’s life occurred on Saturday, December 11, 1994, around 5:30 p.m.. The deputy, then 29-years-old and a 7-year veteran of the department, stopped a passing car in Rowland Heights when he recognized the 18-year-old driver as a man wanted for a previous assault, according to a 1994 LA Times story written by reporter Robert Lopez shortly after the incident. A 15-year-old girl was with the wanted man in the car.
While Deputy Belanger was searching the two who were, by then, out of the car, a friend of the twosome cruised up from behind Belanger on a skateboard and fired two shots before fleeing with the two.
One of the shots hit Belanger in the head.
He was rushed to the hospital where doctors waited overnight for the swelling in Belanger’s brain to go down before they attempted to operate.
At the time, Belanger, an athletic man who reportedly loved baseball, was a married father of a 15-month-old daughter.
The next day, according to the Times’ contemporaneous reporting, doctors were able to surgically remove bone fragments from the deputy’s brain.
But they could not get the bullet out.
We know now that Belanger’s doctors ultimately decided that the single bullet that was lodged in his brain could not be safely removed.
Belanger’s subsequent retirement, ongoing health issues and ultimately his death yesterday, were related to the long ago shooting, according a press release on Belanger’s death released by the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS.)
“Los Angeles County lost a true hero yesterday,” said Ron Hernandez, ALADS’ president. “While he was shot in the line of duty over two decades ago, Steve and his family bravely faced the challenges of his injuries up until his passing.
“Steve’s death is a tragic loss that reminds us of the risks that law enforcement officers take every day to keep us safe,” added Hernandez. “His service and sacrifice will never be forgotten. As our hearts go out to Deputy Belanger’s family, friends and coworkers, we ask the public to keep Steve’s family in their thoughts and prayers.”
A second shooting.
As it happens, Matthew Hagemann, the 20-year-old man who allegedly shot the deputy, was never arrested.
Instead, according to Robert Lopez’s reporting for the Times, at 8:35 p.m. a few hours after Steve Belanger was wounded, deputies responded to calls of shots being fired at Our Lady of the Rosary, a neighborhood church in Paramount, about 16 miles from where Belanger had been shot.
About an hour earlier, someone who declined to give his or her name, had reportedly called the Sheriff’s Department and said that Hagemann had “admitted to shooting the deputy” and was now going to kill himself.
Deputies found Hagemenn dead on the sidewalk in front of the church, a single gunshot wound to his head. The gun believed to be the weapon used to shoot Deputy Belanger was beside him.
Deputy Steve Belanger, who was 52 when he died, was a second-generation LASD deputy who followed in his father’s footsteps.
A private memorial service for Belanger is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Pomona Valley memorial Park. He will rest near his departed father, Deputy Edward Belanger, in the Pomona Valley Memorial Park mausoleum.
According to the the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the ceremony will include an honor guard, a 21 Gun Salute, and a “Missing Man Flyover.”