POMONA — Officials and family members have honored the memory of a longtime Azusa police officer killed by a drunken driver in 2009 with a permanent sign cautioning motorists against intoxicated driving near the scene of the crash.
Randall “Randy” Phillips, 55, of Ontario, died Sept. 12, 2009, after being struck head-on by a wrong-way, drunken driver on the westbound 60 Freeway transition road to the northbound 71 Freeway in Pomona. He was on his way to teach a police explorer academy in Arcadia.
Phillips’ wife, Cindy Phillips, has since worked with Caltrans to obtain and place a large sign at the scene of the crash cautioning motorists against drunken driving.
“This was just the final closure for me,” she said. “It’s in his memory. If it helps somebody else in the future, even one person, to think about not drinking and driving, I’d be happy.”
Caltrans officials placed the sign near the site of the crash May 22. Since friends and family members could not be present when the sign was installed due to safety concerns, they gathered two days earlier at Cindy Phillips’ home to commemorate the occassion two days earlier.
Randy Phillips spent 29 years as an Azusa police officer before retiring in 2004 at the rank of corporal.
After retirement, he continued devoting much of his time to area youths through the San Gabriel Valley Law Enforcement Explorer Academy, in which he taught for 25 years. He was on his way to the first day of academy with a new class at Arcadia High School when he was killed.
In honor of Phillips, the San Gabriel Valley Law Enforcement Explorer Academy now presents a “Randy Phillips Memorial Award” each year to the explorer who scores the highest marks in first aid, one of the skills Cpl. Phillips taught his students.
Cindy Phillips said the roadside sign disuading drunken driving was a highly appropriate tribute to her husband.
In addition to the fact that the sign serves as an approriate reminder of what happened to him, she said its low-key nature suits his personality.
“He was a very private person,” Cindy Phillips said.
Retired Azusa police officer Mark Walters worked alongside Phillips for 20 years.
“He was loved by hundreds of people, and this is a fitting memorial for him,” Walters said.
Former Azusa police chief Bob Garcia, who retired last year, worked with Randy Phillips for more than 20 years.
“He was very community-minded,” Garcia said. “Randy was a people person, which extended into his retirement.”
“He disliked drunk drivers,” Garcia added. “I recall him making many, many drunk driver arrests.”
“This sign is to commemorate Randy and to remind everybody that it’s just such a preventable disaster,” Garcia said.
The former chief also comended Cindy Phillips.
“The most remarkable person through this whole thing has been Cindy,” he said. “She’s maintained her composure. I’m amazed at her strength and dignity. She came through it devastated but determined to do what is right.”
Ronald Becerra Jr., 40, of Chino Hills was sentenced last year to 15 years to life in prison after pleading “no contest” to charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and felony hit-and-run.
He fled the scene initially, but was apprehended the following day, investigators said.
His father, Ronald Becerra Sr., 64, of Chino, pleaded “no contest” to aiding and abetting his son following the fatal crash, and was sentenced to time already served in jail as he awaited trial, plus three years of probation.
Cindy Phillips said she was greatful to all of officials, friends and community members who have supported her family through the difficult process, particularly the prosecutor in case, Assistant Head Deputy John Monaghan Jr. of the Pomona Branch of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
“He was very aggressive,” she said. “I felt like he went above and beyond.”
The prosecutor sought the family’s input before agreeing to a plea deal that spared Becerra Jr. a murder charge, but also spared the Phillips family the stress and uncertainty of a jury trial, Cindy Phillips said.
She added she was satisfied that justice had been served in the case.
In addition to his wife, Phillips is survived by daughter Melissa Souza, son-in-law Christopher Souza and a granddaughter who was born a year and a half after his death.
PHOTOS – courtesy