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A fall through the shadows

Posted: February 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Kolfschoten

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Editor’s note: First in a series of four stories about Santa Clarita Valley “cold case” homicides more than 5 years old.


LAPD Officer Bradley David Kolfschoten was a cop’s cop.

On New Year’s Eve 1998, when a sniper’s bullet found its way under the protective vest of his fellow officer, he ran to her side as shots were still being fired and pulled her to safety.

Officer Cynthia French was shot several times. Bullets punctured her lungs and liver. But she’s alive thanks to her fellow officers — among them, Kolfschoten.

“Brad was one of the many men and women from the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Fire Department and the University of Southern California Medical Center that I owe my life to after I was shot on New Year’s Eve 1998,” French, now a detective, told The Signal.

“I will always be grateful to all of them.”

Kolfschoten’s bravery that day was not a once-in-a-lifetime incident.

On Jan. 25, 2002, Kolfschoten and his partner, on patrol in Reseda, ran into a burning house and pulled three women to safety, then rescued their pets.

Some six months later, another burning house, this time in Encino, and there again was Kolfschoten — on the front page of the local newspaper, his back to the camera, comforting a visibly distraught homeowner.

Then, in 2005, just 24 months after receiving yet another community commendation, Kolfschoten left the LAPD at age 36.

Within a year, the Newhall resident was dead.

Pools of blood

Kolfschoten died at 1:12 a.m. June 28, 2006, at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital of multiple traumatic injuries, including broken ribs, internal injuries, bleeding inside his brain, a partly collapsed lung, numerous bruises and lacerations.

He died as a result of having been brutally beaten — at least that’s what detectives assigned to investigate the death believed at the outset, and what many in the Santa Clarita Valley have believed since then.

His death went into the logs of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station as a homicide.

But a copy of the coroner’s report obtained by The Signal shows Kolfschoten died as a result of injuries suffered in a fall, most likely at his Newhall apartment.

His death is ruled an accident brought on by falls suffered while intoxicated.

Sgt. Joe Purcell and Detective Antonia Martinez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau obtained a search warrant and began their investigation with a visit to the victim’s apartment, Supervisor Brenda Shafer reported in her final investigator’s narrative prepared for the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner.

They found “small pools of blood” at the bottom of the stairs to his apartment, she said.

Up the stairs and inside his apartment, they quickly found evidence of the demons that had plagued the young policeman’s life: 37 empty vodka bottles, two suicide notes and an overturned coffee table.

After interviewing witnesses and family members, Shafer revealed in her report that the policeman “may have blamed himself for the suicidal death of a former girlfriend in April 2005.”

After saving the lives of citizens and a fellow officer, Kolfschoten was unable to save the life of his former girlfriend or himself.

The woman’s body was found April 16, 2005, in a Glendora motel. She died of asphyxiation after having placed a helium-filled bag over her head.

Within five months of her death, Kolfschoten lost his job over an “alcohol-related” incident.

He had signed a contract with the LAPD earlier in his career that if he ever had another alcohol-related incident, he would be terminated.

That day came in September 2005.

Critical injuries

On June 27, 2006, at 7:30 a.m., Newhall resident Jim Singmaster took his dog for a walk.

As he made his way down 16th Street, he noticed a man slumped over the steering wheel of a parked car.

“When I left on my walk, he was sitting upright in his car,” Singmaster said recently. “When I came back from my walk, about 20 to 30 minutes later, he was over on the passenger side, leaning against the window.”

When Singmaster arrived home, he told his granddaughter about the man in the car, and she called 911 to report it, he said.

That was at about 8 a.m.

No one responded to the call as Kolfschoten’s health slowly worsened due to critical untreated injuries, many on the right side of his body, described as: right pneumothorax, in which air or gas accumulates in the chest cavity as a result of disease, or in this case injury; a broken right rib; bruises on the right side of his chest and flank; blunt trauma with injuries inside his head, including hemorrhaging inside his brain.

When Singmaster and his granddaughter noticed no one responding to their 911 call, they phoned again.

The second 911 call was made at about 10 a.m.

Still no one responded.

Four-hour delay

Other witnesses identified in the coroner report said they saw Kolfschoten get out of his car on the driver’s side, walk around the car and get in on the passenger side.

Those witnesses also called police a second time to report the incident.

“Four hours later, and with no police response, they (witnesses) called again reporting that they thought that he might now be dead,” the coroner wrote in her final report.

Local sheriff’s deputies got to Kolfschoten about noon, Homicide Bureau Capt. David Smith told The Signal Jan. 25.

It was after noon when medical help finally arrived for the badly injured former policeman.

Paramedics found him unconscious in his car at 12:17 p.m., according to the arrival time logged by paramedics on the hospital chart.

At that point, Kolfschoten had only seconds of life left in him.

“During removal from the vehicle, the decedent became pulseless and apneic,” coroner notes show, meaning he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating.

Paramedics brought him back to life using “advanced cardiac life support” measures that “restored his pulse,” the record shows.

Kolfschoten’s heart, however, stopped again on the way to the hospital.

Once at Henry Mayo, doctors inserted tubes to keep him alive, including: a tube inserted below his collar bone at 1:55 p.m., a chest tube inserted at 4:52 p.m. and a third tube inserted into a major leg artery at 6 p.m.

He remained in critical condition until he died at 1:12 a.m. June 28, 2006.

Under scrutiny

In the days that followed, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station came under fire from the media over the delayed emergency response to Kolfschoten.

The Signal was told in July 2006 that the local sheriff’s station was conducting an internal investigation into the incident.

In response to a letter sent by The Signal last month requesting a copy of that internal investigation, Sheriff Leroy D. Baca wrote: “Unfortunately, we are unable to assist you with your request. The records requested are considered part of an employee’s personnel records.”

Dr. Vadims Poukens, the deputy medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Kolfschoten’s body, concluded in his report:

“It is our opinion that decedent may have had a better outcome and possibly not died if he had medical treatment earlier. It should be noted that he was intoxicated and had serious underlying liver disease related to alcoholism, which further compromised his fragile status.”

Toxicology tests revealed he had a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit to drive.

All of those who encountered Kolfschoten on the day he was found in his car — including Singmaster, paramedics and homicide detectives — described him initially as the victim of a beating.

Even though his death is officially classified as an accident, some are still not convinced.

“It didn’t look like he fell down the stairs to me,” Singmaster said. “If he fell, he must have fallen a hell of a long way. It looked like he just had the hell beaten out of him.”

To be absolutely sure, homicide investigators pieced together the hours and minutes leading up to Kolfschoten’s death.

Last hours alive

On June 25, 2006, three days before he died, his neighbors told investigators they heard sounds as if Kolfschoten had fallen down the stairs of his second-floor apartment on Walnut Street.

On June 26, surveillance tapes from a Newhall liquor store show Kolfschoten walking into the store and his “condition getting worse,” the coroner’s report shows.

On June 27, neighbors who share a common wall with Kolfschoten told detectives they saw the policeman drive his car home slowly, according to statements made to detectives.

He got out of the car staggering and barefoot, they said.

“They heard him appear to walk up the stairs, and then heard a number of bumps. They believe it sounded as though he fell down the stairs. They then heard him appear to walk (up) the stairs again and again fall down.”

Concerned about his well-being, the neighbors knocked on his door but received no response.

They told detectives they heard water running in the bathroom.

The next time Kolfschoten was seen alive was by Jim Singmaster walking his dog at 7:30 a.m.

As reports of a delayed 911 response emerged, Kolfschoten’s father, John, began looking for answers.

He started by asking for a copy of the coroner’s report.

The forensic timeline shows a detailed and painstaking examination.

The autopsy was done on July 1, 2006, and toxicology test results obtained July 28, 2006. After pathologists studied the multiple injuries and reviewed X-rays ordered in November 2006 — which revealed evidence of old healed broken bones — they made their final diagnosis on Dec. 5, 2006.

Bradley Kolfschoten’s death was an accident.

It wasn’t until Jan. 5, 2007 that the coroner’s report was finalized.

“He did suffer, and he did have his demons,” said his father, a San Fernando Valley resident. “But he was always a good police officer.”

Ongoing struggles

Officer Romik Keshishi shot and killed the gunman who had wounded French the day Kolfschoten helped pull her out of the line of fire.

“I get goose bumps talking about this,” he said, recalling Kolfschoten’s death.

“When I found out he was found dead in his car, it touched me. I didn’t know he had a drinking problem,” he said. “He was the one who actually pulled Officer French out of the kill zone.”

French owes her life, in part, to Kolfschoten.

“I only knew Brad in a working-type setting. Small conversations at work, bumping into him by chance at the supermarket off-duty, those types of encounters. From those brief contacts I always thought Brad was a kind and friendly man who was always ready and willing to work. I had no inkling of his ongoing struggles with alcoholism,” French said.

“I was saddened to hear of his passing, and this latest news regarding the coroner’s report makes it even more heartbreaking,” she said. “But I choose to believe that Brad is in a better place, and I just hope that they can learn something from his passing that will help save someone else’s life.”

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