Travis DeLathouder
Credit: Travis DeLathouder

College of the Desert held a ceremony on Saturday, April 22, to commemorate fallen Palm Springs Police Department officers Jose Gilbert “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny at the college’s Sheriff Bob Doyle Public Safety Memorial.

Vega, 63, and Zerebny, 27, were killed on Oct. 8, 2016, while responding to a domestic-disturbance call, in what Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin described as an ambush.

“It was very touching,” said David Kling, the father of Officer Zerebny. “I really appreciate that the college would have it and invite us. The plaque is beautiful. Anything they can do like this to commemorate Gil and Leslie, I think they would really appreciate it.”

Afterward, I spoke to Neil Lingle, the director of the Public Safety Academy of College of the Desert, about the importance of the memorial to the community. Lingle is a 31-year law enforcement veteran who retired from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 2007.

Was the memorial your idea?

The COD peace officer memorial grew out of the first (COD) bond measure, when they built the buildings for the Public Safety Academy. Bob Doyle, who was the previous sheriff of Riverside County, donated $25,000 to build this memorial to honor police and firefighting personnel who have lost their lives in this county. So what we did is we went back to the first death we knew about in 1895. Every police officer and firefighter who has died since that point in time … (has been) memorialized on this wall.

What impact do you hope this memorial has on students, faculty and the community as a whole?

I think it serves as a dutiful reminder of the sacrifice that these officers made, and in addition to that, the sacrifice of their families, who have to move on without their loved ones. It’s a tragic loss for the families and the law-enforcement community. These people sign on to be professional law enforcement and firefighters to serve their communities and do good in their communities. In this instance … officers Vega and Zerebny were ambushed and killed on Oct. 8, 2016.

Is there anything you would like to personally say?

This was a ceremony for the students and the family of the deceased officers. We honor the fallen officers for their loss and sacrifice; and I meant what I said in my remarks: We do genuinely share the sorrow of these families on the loss of these wonderful human beings and public servants.