Los Angeles, CA – A Los Angeles County deputy died on Feb. 6, due to complications caused by a bullet that remained lodged in his brain after he was ambushed during a traffic stop in 1994.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office (LACSO) Deputy Steven Belanger, 52, was a seven-year veteran of the department when he was shot in the head at the age of 29, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported.
He returned to light duty in 2000, but complications from his injury forced him into retirement in 2001, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"While it has been 23 years since Steven was gravely wounded, it feels as if it were yesterday," LACSO Sheriff Jim McDonnell said at Deputy Belanger’s funeral on Thursday.
“Los Angeles County lost a true hero yesterday,” Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs president Ron Hernandez said on Wednesday. “While he was shot in the line of duty over two decades ago, Steve and his family bravely faced the challenges of his injuries up until his passing.”
"Steve's death is a tragic loss that reminds us of the risks that law enforcement officers take every day to keep us safe,” Hernandez said. “His service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
Deputy Belanger was a married father of a 15-month-old daughter when he was shot in the line of duty on Dec. 10, 1994, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The deputy was on patrol when he recognized Gregory Powell, a suspect in an assault case, as he drove by.
Deputy Belanger initiated a traffic stop, handcuffed Powell, and was questioning a teenage female passenger in the vehicle, when 20-year-old Matthew Hagemann rolled past him on a skateboard.
Hagemann, a friend of Powell’s, opened fire on the deputy, and fled with the teenage girl. Deputy Belanger was shot in the head and foot.
Later that night, Hagemann shot himself outside a Paramount church, using the same weapon that he had used in the ambush.
Doctors removed bone fragments from the deputy’s head, but were unable to remove the bullet from his brain. He remained under constant medical care, and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
“The bullet lodged in Steve’s brain and therefore could not be removed,” Hernandez said. “His retirement, ongoing health issues and ultimately his death yesterday, were related to the shooting.”
“He lived a long, happy life after retirement,” his daughter, Nicole, told the Los Angeles Times.
Deputy Belanger, whose father was also a LACSO deputy, joined the department in March of 1988, the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Steven Belanger, both blood and blue. Godspeed, we will take the watch from here. Thank you for your service.
Deputy Steven Belanger, your life mattered.