■ Kyle Selby / Reporter
Sunday, Oct. 8, marked the one year anniversary of the deaths of Palm Springs Police Officers Lesley Zerebny and Jose “Gil” Vega, who were both gunned down in the line of duty during a domestic disturbance call. Two dedication ceremonies were held Sunday morning in their remembrance.
The first ceremony began early Sunday morning at Palm Springs Visitors Center, where Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes and other officials unveiled a brand new highway sign that renamed a part of Highway 111 (West San Rafael Drive to Overture Drive) after both Zerebny and Vega.
“[It is] very fitting for a portion of Highway 111 – the gateway into Palm Springs – to be forever named in their honor,” said Reyes. “[They were] gatekeepers of our community.”
At the second event, in front of the police department, two bronze plaques dedicated to Zerebny and Vega were added to their memorial for fallen officers.
Hundreds of people attended both events, including dozens of still-mourning relatives and friends of both Zerebny and Vega. At least 70 Palm Springs police officers came to pay their respects as well.
Lesley Zerebny, 27, was a lifelong Hemet resident who had joined the PSPD just 18 months before she was killed. She had just returned from maternity leave after the birth of her daughter, Cora.
“She loved the city of Palm Springs. She loved this police department,” Zerebny’s father, David Kling, told the crowd. “And the fact that you are showing up here, on this hot day, standing out here, shows her that you love her too.”
Gil Vega, 63, from Cathedral City, had 35 years of experience with the PSPD under his belt. He left behind eight children, 11 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Vega was due to retire just six months before he was killed.
“He wished that he could save everybody and just make everybody have a nice life,” said Vega’s nine-year-old daughter, Vanessa. “And he never expected this to happen.”
Zerebny and Vega were responding to a domestic disturbance call, on Oct. 8, 2016, at the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue in Palm Springs when known gang member, John Hernandez Felix, allegedly opened fire. Both officers suffered fatal injuries, while a third officer survived his injuries.
Felix was captured after a lengthy standoff and will face the death penalty if convicted.
The last time a Palm Springs police officer died on duty was during the 1960s; Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee died during a vehicle pursuit in 1962, and Officer Gale Gene Eldridge was shot while investigating a robbery in 1961. Zerebny and Vega were the third and fourth officers to die in the line of duty in the history of PSPD.
“It’s very tough,” Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes told the Desert Sun. He shared a story about a very good friend of his that he was hired with, in Compton. Reyes’ friend was called to a “shots fired” scene one night, where he and his partner were shot and killed. “Now, as a chief, it’s happened to two people that I’m responsible for. They go out there and do the job every day at my direction.”
Reyes had only been chief for 10 months before the shooting.