Wife seeks answers in slaying by Torrance police — (The Daily Breeze)

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The Daily Breeze

By Larry Altman, Staff Writer

When help was sought for troubled man, “I didn’t think they were going to kill him,” she says.

Sonya Vasquez knew her husband needed help. The father of four was apparently off his medication for bipolar disorder, upset and cutting his arms and stomach with a pocket knife.

Unable to calm him Monday afternoon, Mrs. Vasquez urged her teenage daughter to call the police, believing officers would take her husband to a hospital, where he could receive treatment.

That’s what they did when she called police on a previous occasion.

But a couple of hours after Torrance officers arrived, 43-year-old William Vasquez lay dead, shot in the legs, stomach and heart.

“I thought the police were really going to help us this time,” Mrs. Vasquez said. “I didn’t think they were going to kill him.”

Mrs. Vasquez said she understands that police officers sometimes must shoot to protect themselves, but she has not been told why they opened fire.

“I’m a forgiving person,” she said Thursday. “I want to know what really happened because I don’t know. If they feared for their lives, I don’t know.”

A Torrance police statement issued after the Monday shooting did not shed any light on why at least one officer fired his weapon.

“Officers entered the residence and were attempting to negotiate with Vasquez when an officer-involved shooting occurred,” the statement said.

Lt. Rod Irvine, a police spokesman, said Tuesday that no new information on the shooting would be released until detectives speak with the officers. The interviews were scheduled for Thursday and today.

“Until they are interviewed, we don’t know specifically what happened,” Irvine said. “We have a good understanding from the current investigation, but they would ask that I don’t make any more statements until they know for sure what the officers’ statements are, so we know the facts we believe to be factual are actually factual.”

Mrs. Vasquez said her husband became angry with her Monday because he did not know where she was. She had spent the night at her sister-in-law’s house, and he was worried about her.

He calmed down and they headed in the morning for Manhattan Beach, where they had a “wonderful time.”

But he apparently had not been taking his Zoloft, medication for his depression and anxiety.

“He had a mental illness. He didn’t know how to deal with his sadness or stress,” the wife said. “If he took his medication, he was my best friend.”

As they returned home about 1 p.m., Mr. Vasquez, a recovering alcoholic, drank a beer. Alcohol and his illness did not mix, she said.

In the early afternoon, he began arguing with his wife again, bringing up his troubled childhood and suggesting he kill himself so his wife and children could receive his life insurance money.

She denied a police statement that he had hit her.

“He said, `I can’t take it anymore. I have pain,”‘ she said. “He said, `Sonya, I love you so much. I love the kids so much. I would rather just die so you can be free of me. I give you so many problems because of my illness.”‘

Mr. Vasquez, a materials handler at the Plumber’s Warehouse in Carson, pulled out a 3-inch pocket knife and cut three superficial wounds on his stomach, three or four more on his biceps.

Crying “`Daddy, no, no,”‘ his 15-year-old daughter, Yvette, took a towel and pressed it to his wounds.

Mrs. Vasquez said she told her daughter to text message her 18-year-old brother – who was not home with them – to call 911. She wanted an ambulance to take her husband to the hospital.

About four months earlier, when Mr. Vasquez had failed to take his medication for two days, Mrs. Vasquez did the same. Emergency workers arrived and took her husband to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

After her father demanded she stop text messaging, Yvette Vasquez said she needed to use the bathroom, closed herself inside and called 911.

“I was trying to get him to stop hurting himself,” Mrs. Vasquez said. “My main thing was for him to be safe.”

Police knocked on the door a short time later. Her husband told her not to open it and that officers required a search warrant to come inside.

When she opened the door, police officers had their guns drawn, she said. Mrs. Vasquez said she advised them that her husband did not have a gun.

“They were trying to tell him, `William, what’s the problem here? We are here to help you,”‘ the wife recalled. “He said, `No, no. I know you are here to hurt me.”‘

Angry, he told them not to come in, ran upstairs and locked himself in the couple’s bedroom.

Officers took Mrs. Vasquez and her daughter outside.

“All I could hear was him screaming – `I want my wife! All I want is my wife!”‘ she said.

Mrs. Vasquez and her daughter were taken from the house to a command post down the street. During the next two hours, officers negotiated with her husband.

At one point, Mr. Vasquez apparently asked to speak to a female Lennox sheriff’s deputy he knew from the past. A negotiator asked Mrs. Vasquez for her name, but she did not know it.

At 3:49 p.m., officers shot Vasquez. He was pronounced dead two hours later at the same hospital where his wife had hoped he would get psychiatric treatment.

“I was devastated,” she said. “I wish I could have done something better – something different.”

Doctors told her that her husband had six gunshot wounds to his legs, multiple wounds to his stomach and one fatal bullet to his heart.

The knife had pierced the door, which was riddled with bullets. Mrs. Vasquez believes her husband was coming out when officers fired their guns.

Mrs. Vasquez said she simply wants answers and would understand if officers fired their weapons if her husband lunged at them with the knife.

“Then, I feel they have the right to protect themselves. They have children too,” she said. “If that was the worst-case scenario, then they have the right. They did the best that they could.”

But her husband of 17 years, the father of 18- and 8-year-old sons, and 15- and 13-year-old daughters, is gone.

The family began making funeral arrangements Thursday.

“(My daughter) thought she made the right choice in calling for help, but it didn’t come out right,” the mother said. “She has to live with, `I called for help, and they killed my daddy.”‘

larry.altman@dailybreeze.com