Zerebny and Vega’s alleged murderer prepares for mental evaluation
■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
Palm Springs police officers Lesley Zerebny and Jose Gilbert Vega were honored Monday morning during a ceremony at the state capitol in Sacramento when their names were added to California’s peace officer memorial monument.
Last year on Oct. 8, Officer Zerebny and Officer Vega responded to a domestic disturbance call on the 2700 Block of Cypress Avenue in Palm Springs when John Hernandez Felix allegedly opened fire. Zerebny, 27, a lifelong Hemet resident, and Vega, 63, a veteran training officer from Coachella Valley, suffered fatal injuries, while another officer also shot during the altercation survived.
Thirteen other officers were memorialized along with Zerebny and Vega at the 41st annual California Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremony.
More than 1,500 names of fallen police officers are featured on the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Monument. Eight other officers killed in the line of duty last year, as well as five others who were slain in previous years, were memorialized Monday with Zerebny and Vega.
Initiated with a vehicular procession and a “Walk of Honor,” Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes served as keynote speaker at the memorial ceremony.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them,” lamented Reyes. “What is common throughout all generations of police officers is the absolute insistence that the gratitude truly belongs not to us, but to our fallen; brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their community.”
“It puts into focus the assembly bills and propositions responsible for the watering down of our California criminal justice system,” said Reyes, referring to Proposition 47 and Assembly Bill 109, which mandates that certain “low-level” felonies would require incarceration in county jails, as opposed to state prisons. The crowd praised Reyes comments with roaring applause. “This is an important issue, and it needs more discussion among all of us…the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
Having just returned from maternity leave last October, Zerebny had been with the Palm Springs Police Department for about 18 months. Vega had been with the department for 35 years, planning to retire last December. Zerebny’s daughter, Cora, will grow up without her mother.
They were the first Palm Springs police officers killed in the line of duty since 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee lost his life during a vehicle pursuit on New Year’s Day. The only other death from that department was a year prior, when Officer Gale Gene Eldridge was shot and killed while investigating an armed robbery on Jan. 18, 1961.
Alleged shooter to undergo mental evaluation
Last Friday, a judge ruled 26-year-old Felix, who is charged with the murders of Zerebny and Vega, to undergo mental evaluation, the results of which will be submitted to court next month.
Felix is charged with shooting Zerebny, Vega, and another officer through a metal screen door of his home, and also firing at two of their colleagues, who did not experience any injuries. A 12-hour standoff ensued as a result, until Felix eventually surrendered. Felix was wearing body armor and fired armor piercing rounds from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, according to prosecutors.
A preliminary hearing for Felix was scheduled Friday to decide whether enough evidence had been collected for Felix to stand trial on multiple charges, including two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.
However Felix’s competency is being called into question by his attorney John Dolan, based on several conversations and the consultation of neuropsychologists.
Judge Richard A. Erwood of Riverside County Superior Court ruled that Felix’s criminal proceedings will be suspended until Felix’s competency can be evaluated by two psychiatrists, who will be instructed to submit their reports by June 21.
“Substantial evidence” of Felix’s mental incompetency must be provided in the case that Felix can neither comprehend, nor assist his attorneys in his defense. If the evidence cannot be provided, the criminal proceedings suspension will be lifted, but his competency can still be examined by one psychiatrist appointed by the court.
Felix is no stranger to law enforcement. Court records show that Felix was on probation for a misdemeanor conviction of driving under the influence when the attack took place. He was previously convicted in 2009 for assault with a deadly weapon, and was sentenced to two years in prison on an attempted murder charge. Before that he was convicted of street gang activity, and was accused of resisting arrest by Palm Springs police officers shortly after his release from state prison. Felix is currently being held without bail.