Murder charge sought for driver as CHP officer fatally injured in Lake Elsinore is recalled as ‘beloved sergeant’
A veteran CHP officer fatally injured when struck by a car driven on the right shoulder of the 15 Freeway in Lake Elsinore was described Sunday as a “beloved sergeant” who mentored officers and “loved the Highway Patrol and his family.”
Sgt. Steve Licon, with the agency for 27 years, was struck Saturday afternoon as he wrote a traffic citation for a Chrysler sedan he had stopped on the southbound 15 Freeway, north of Nichols Road.
“We lost a darned good sergeant. He is going to be missed,” Capt. Mario Lucio, California Highway Patrol Inland Division Special Services Commander, said at a Sunday afternoon news conference also watched by several Caltrans workers, who had left flowers and a Caltrans hardhat at the outside step of the CHP’s Riverside office.
CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said in a tweet that Licon left behind a wife and two daughters.
Licon died of his injuries at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar, Lucio said.
“The impact was significant,” Lucio said of the crash that took the sergeant’s life.
Arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and driving under the influence was Michael Callahan, 36, of Winchester, described by Lucio as an “errant driver.” He was being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, jail records showed Sunday.
The investigation was in its early stages, Lucio cautioned in response to questions, but he confirmed that CHP investigators were seeking a first-degree murder charge rather than a vehicular manslaughter charge more often sought in collision deaths.
“We have uncovered evidence which shows gross negligence both during and before this tragic collision occurred,” Lucio said. “Because of that, our investigators… believe recommending murder charges are completely appropriate.”
Callahan does not have a documented criminal record in Riverside County, according to Superior Court records. Lucio would not comment further on the case during the news conference.
Riverside County District Attorney spokesman John Hall said Sunday the prosecutor’s office “will review the evidence provided to our office and make a determination on any charges at the appropriate time.”
Jail records said Callahan’s expected court date to enter a plea to whatever charges may be filed is Wednesday, April 10.
The crash happened in an area that has seen heavy traffic in recent weeks because of the spectacular poppy blooms in the nearby hills. It wasn’t immediately known if the flower-viewing traffic contributed to the collision, and Lucio on Sunday declined to discuss the case in detail.
Licon was injured at 4:26 p.m. Saturday as he was writing a citation for a Chrysler sedan he had stopped, Lucio said. A grey Toyota Corolla driven by Callahan on the freeway’s right shoulder struck Licon’s motorycycle, the sergeant and the Chrysler.
Licon appears to be the only person seriously injured in the crash; Callahan was described as having minor injuries and the four people in the Chrysler were described as uninjured.
“Sergeant Licon was just an officer’s sergeant,” Lucio said. “He was one of the guys, but he was firm and he was strict and he held people accountable for (their) actions. I saw him as a mentor. I credit him for being where I am at today, and that’s the truth.”
“He was a family man, and when I say that, in the truest form, he was a family man, with strong faith, he loved the Highway Patrol and loved his family, and he talked about those things often in briefings” as he tried to mold officers, Lucio said. “That’s just who he was.”
“We look at them as our brothers and sisters,” Caltrans District 8 Director Mike Beauchamp, who was present at the news conference, said afterward about the CHP officers.
“It’s a risk just being out there,” he said.
CHP officers and Caltrans workers “are taking their lives at risk every day when they are out there, and they know that,” Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga said “Yet they still do it … a lot of the things they are doing out there is to keep the traveling public safe.”
“We’re asking motorists to make it safe for us, too. It’s time to stop driving impaired, it’s time to stop being a distracted driver … it’s time to stop,” Kasinga said.
She said she had worked with Licon, most recently for organizing traffic and pedestrian safety for the Lake Elsinore poppy “superbloom.”
“This man was a hero…I’ve worked with him on and off over the years,” she said. “It affects too many people when something like this happens. Not only his family and his close co-workers, but it’s just on such a large level.”
The office of Gov. Gavin Newsom said that during his 27-year career, Licon served with the CHP in the Baldwin Park and Santa Ana areas besides the Riverside area.
“We mourn the loss of a husband and father of two who lost his life while protecting the state of California. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family, his friends and his many California Highway Patrol colleagues for their devastating loss,” Newsom and Acting Gov. Eleni Kounalakis said in a statement, adding Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff in honor of Licon.
On Monday, CHP Commissioner Stanley will preside over a bell-toll tribute to Licon at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento.
Law enforcement officers from several agencies and medical personnel assembled outside Inland Valley Regional Medical Center in Wildomar late Saturday night to honor Licon as his body was taken from the hospital to the Riverside County Coroner’s office in Perris. Residents and officials lined roads for the procession.
Licon’s hearse was among the first in the long procession of hundreds of police cars, police motorcycles, fire engines and fire chief SUVs that arrived at the coroner’s office at 9:48 p.m. with emergency lights flashing and sirens quiet.
Onlookers stood quietly and respectfully, some with hands over their hearts.
Bobby Steele, 48 and a resident of Lake Elsinore, works for Brothers Towing. He and a number of other tow crews parked outside the coroner’s office to pay their respects.
“We work hand in hand with these guys (CHP officers), day in and day out, and it hits the heart when it happens,” Steele said.
The California Highway Patrol issued details for a sanctioned memorial fund for Licon, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the family. Donors can click on the memorial fund site or send checks to the:
Sergeant Steven Licon Memorial Fund
CAHP Credit Union
PO Box 276507Sacramento, CA 95827
Staff writer Brian Rokos contributed to this story.