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Remembering Deputy David Larimer on Christmas Eve

David Larimer was the first Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to Altadena to lose his life in the line of duty. It happened on a dark Christmas Eve in 1941, shortly after blackouts were ordered in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing.

Sgt. John Stanley, historian for the Altadena Sheriff’s Station, wrote an account of the accident that took the life of Deputy Sheriff David Stout Larimer’s 70 years ago, and the annual tradition at the station that honors his memory.

Larimer and his partner Benjamin Davis were patrolling Colorado Blvd. just west of Rosemead Blvd. after dark that Christmas Eve when they saw a woman trying to cross the street at Lotus Ave.  Larimer usually wasn’t on patrol. Accident investigation was one of his primary responsibilities, and he and Davis were the chief investigators for Altadena traffic collisions at the time. 

Because of the blackout and inclement weather, this was a challenge for the woman, identified as Mrs. John Girvan.  (This area is now patrolled by Temple Station.)  Larimer got out of the squad car to assist her and light the way with his flashlight, when a car sped through the intersection. 

Stanley writes, “Unfortunately, the blacked out streets and poor weather were not the only thing inhibiting the driving ability of Frank Usrey, 41, of East Pasadena. He also had imbibed a little extra holiday cheer before getting behind the wheel.”

Realizing what was about to happen, Larimer pushed Girvan to safety, but he was struck and tossed at least 21 feet.  He died instantly.  He was 65 years old.

Usrey was later acquitted of charges of drunk driving and negligent homicide.  Stanley notes that Larimer was one of eight people who lost their lives in traffic collisions on Christmas Eve 1941, and writes, “There seems little doubt that the blackout was at least partly responsible.”  It’s possible the jury considered the weather and blackout as mitigating factors, he opines.

David Larimer was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena on Dec. 29, 1941. Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz and Undersheriff Arthur Jewell, both longtime friends of Larimer, attended the funeral.

Larimer served the Sheriff’s Department for 24 years, beginning in 1910.  His career was not without incident.  He took hiatus for seven years, from 1924 to 1931, after being indicted and cleared of eight counts of embezzlement and one count of forgery, alleging that he pocketed money when escorting felons to San Quentin and Folsom prisons.  It was found that the money was used appropriately, and charges were dismissed, but his reputation as damaged. He rejoined the department in 1931.

Honors for his death in the line of duty were delayed until his grandson, David Burwell, a reserve deputy sheriff in Yavapai County, Arizona, shared the story with the Sheriff of the department. The Sheriff checked to see if Larimer had been honored, and finding he hadn’t, he encouraged Burwell to contact the LASD.  In 1996, Larimer was added to the county and national memorials.  A request for state honors was omitted at the time, but in 2009, Larimer’s name was added to the state rolls as well.

Last summer, Burwell gave us his endorsement to add a Sheriff’s star to his grandfather’s headstone.

Deputies at Altadena station began a tradition in 2008 to honor Larimer.  Every Christmas Eve, they wear Class A shirts with ties.  “We do so not just because of what he sacrificed on our behalf, but also because of the life he led and the example he set for us to follow,” Stanley writes.

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