Man posed as CHP officer’s relative at memorial ceremony

Man posed as CHP officer’s relative at memorial

MEMORIAL: Slain highway patrolman’s ‘nephew’ says he’s sorry. Family is angry.

John Guenther Staff Writer
Daily Breeze

Originally published in Daily Breeze.

Date: November 3, 2010

A man who claimed to be the nephew of a fallen California Highway Patrol officer at a ceremony dedicating a new freeway sign in his honor last week said Tuesday that he meant no harm.

The false assertion by Peter Beaver angered the family of Officer Merle L. Andrews, who died during a shootout in Palos Verdes Estates in 1967. But Beaver said he looked up to Andrews as an uncle figure.

“I had nothing to gain,” said Beaver, a Long Beach resident. “It was not about me. It was about Merle. I look at him as my uncle. To me, he was my uncle. He called me his nephew. Even though, if you want to say by blood, OK, I wasn’t. To me, he was.”
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During the ceremony Friday in Gardena, officials unveiled signs that will declare the interchange of the San Diego (405) and Harbor (110) freeways as the “CHP Officer Merle L. Andrews Interchange.”

Beaver stood on the stage wearing a badge with a black band over it. Afterward, he recounted how he washed and rode Merle Andrews’ patrol motorcycle as a 12-year-old boy in the neighborhood.

But Andrews’ family disputes even that. Andrews was too much of a perfectionist to allow a kid to ride his department vehicle.

“Merle would never jeopardize his job,” said his widow, Sandra Andrews, who now lives in Arizona. “People were probably thinking this cop was an idiot. I don’t think so. Not Merle Andrews.”

Beyond the anger they felt toward Beaver, the family also was dismayed that they knew nothing of the ceremony honoring Andrews until they heard about it on the news.

The Andrews family learned of the dedication when Barry Sexton – Merle Andrews’ real nephew – heard the story on local news radio. When Merle Andrews’ son, Carl Andrews, was notified, he went online to search for articles on the ceremony. What he found made him upset.

“When I read what the caption was, that he was the nephew, I said ‘That’s not his nephew,”‘ Carl Andrews said, after looking a related photograph.

Family members started e-mailing about the misinformation and created a page on Facebook calling for a rededication ceremony and a new sign be available for “true family members to sign.” (Beaver signed the back of one at Friday’s ceremony.)

“This memorial was initiated under the false pretense that Peter Beaver was Merle’s nephew,” a message stated on the website.

Beaver has a long history of being involved with the memorial. He helped initiate the process to commemorate Andrews in 1996. On July 7, 2005, the California Legislature passed a resolution naming the interchange.

Sandra Andrews disputes Beaver’s portrayal that he was close to the family.

“He was a nice young man that looked up to a police officer,” she said. “I did not know to the extent that he had carried this to. Obviously he didn’t let this go.”

Sandra Andrews said her late husband was a good person and family man.

“When I first met him, he had such a beautiful smile,” Sandra Andrews said. “Merle really was a good person, a loving father. He provided well for us. He was a man who had his household in order. Just a nice guy.”

CHP officials apologized to the family for the confusion. Capt. Chris O’Quinn from the CHP’s South Los Angeles office made several phone calls extending his “deepest regret.”

“I can tell tell you in my communication with the family I extended my apology for the oversight,” O’Quinn said. “The vetting wasn’t sufficient, and we will provide the opportunity to participate in some type of celebration of the posting of the sign.”

The family and the CHP are now discussing holding a rededication ceremony next year. O’Quinn said the CHP will hold back one sign so it can be signed by the family.

Beaver said he has been devastated by “derogatory” comments directed at him on the Daily Breeze website, where the original article was posted.

“It shouldn’t be, because I had dedicated from ’95 to now to see this thing through and followed it through for years,” Beaver said.

Carl Andrews said he values the off-hours time and effort the CHP put into the memorial. He added that he appreciates

Beaver’s intention to start the memorial but wished he had handled it differently.
“Had he been forthright and honest in everything he did, the hurt would have been a lot less,” Carl Andrews said.

He added that the CHP responded the way it should have given the circumstances. But he said the state should first verify family relations before introducing such memorial legislation.

Sandra Andrews said that family members are expressing a desire to be in California for a rededication but that she isn’t looking for any glory.

“I don’t think Merle ever wanted to be glorified,” Sandra Andrews said. “Merle himself wasn’t a bragging police officer. But I think he would have thought it was a great honor that people would want to do this.”

She also acknowledged that the ceremony brought back the emotions of what happened 43years ago.

“With Pete doing this,” she said, “it has brought this pain back to me.”

Copyright 2010, Daily Breeze, All Rights Reserved

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