Manhattan Beach Police Officer Vasquez remembered as upbeat
Every morning last week, Manhattan Beach Police Officer Mark Vasquez asked the same question when he awoke: “Is it Saturday?”
Vasquez’ daughter, Ashley, turned 7 on Saturday, more than four years after her dad was diagnosed with cancer. The family had planned a party.
When Saturday finally came, Vasquez smiled as he watched his daughter blow out candles on her cake and open presents.
The following night, he passed away at his Torrance home in his wife’s arms and his family in a nearby room. He would have turned 36 this Sunday.
“He fought harder than I have ever seen him fight to make it through our daughters’ birthdays this month,” wrote Vasquez’ wife, Lee, 35, Tuesday on a blog she has kept since he was first diagnosed. “I can’t even explain the determination in him to get through Saturday for Ashley. He loves those girls more than anything on the planet. His fight proved that. It was amazing and once he knew he made it through, he was ready.”
By all accounts, Vasquez was a happy, upbeat guy — the kind of guy who always had a smile on his face and a positive attitude whether fighting crime or an aggressive form of multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the plasma cells, with which he was diagnosed in 2007. Family and friends remember him always willing to lend a helping hand, even when sick; Vasquez worked on and off as a community outreach officer and a detective after he was diagnosed. He is also remembered as a great listener and the rare type of person who was never heard speaking badly of someone else.
MBPD Chief Rod Uyeda announced Vasquez’ passing late Sunday evening to his department in an email entitled “The passing of Mark Vasquez – Our Superman.”
“I have never known a man more courageous and full of passion for the betterment of all those around him,” Uyeda wrote. “It has truly been an honor to have known Mark and called him a friend.”
“He was truly one of our angels,” he added.
Born on May 22, 1975 to Manuel Vasquez and Jo-Ubina Smith, Vasquez grew up in Torrance and attended and played baseball for both Redondo Union High School and West High School in Torrance. During a single game at Redondo, Vasquez played in all nine positions. After graduating from West in 1993, he attended El Camino College, where he continued to play baseball while also coaching local Little League teams.
“He loved baseball,” said Jill Nash, Lee’s sister. “He was a die-hard Dodgers fan.”
Vasquez graduated from California State University Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in business in 1999 and married his high school sweetheart, Lee, who he met when he was 14. The couple had two daughters, including Madison, 9. Before going into law enforcement, Vasquez worked in sales and insurance, practicing martial arts and playing roller hockey in his spare time.
After going on a police ride-along in Torrance, Vasquez applied with and was hired at the MBPD in 2005. He quickly became known for his optimistic attitude.
“Being an officer was his passion,” Lee wrote.
MBPD Detective Michael Rosenberger, one of Vasquez’ field training officers, recalled a day during Vasquez’ early training when he was supposed to be learning things like how to write tickets and impound cars. That day, the two handled a drunk driving accident and a sexual assault call.
“It was way more advanced than what he should have been doing, but with him you could always put more on his plate,” Rosenberger said. “He was just on top of it and would let you know he was up for it and that he’d take it on.”
In late 2006, Vasquez started experiencing back pain and was diagnosed shortly after, undergoing surgery to remove a tumor, followed by multiple rounds of radiation, chemo and stem cell therapies. Before starting chemo, he told Lee he looked forward to celebrating 50 more wedding anniversaries together.
Last summer, 160 family, friends, city officials, residents and cops from all over the South Bay waited two hours at Joslyn Community Center to donate blood and have their bone marrow types checked for Vasquez. Since then, the battle has been up and down until recently, when his form of cancer became resistant to chemotherapy, according to Nash.
“Four years is a long time for someone with this type of cancer to survive,” Nash said. “Last April, an oncologist said he only had a weekend to a week left, and he lasted another full year.”
At a Tuesday city memorial service for three Manhattan Beach police officers who have been killed in the line of duty, Uyeda said that the city should consider adding Vasquez’ name – along with that of former MBPD Officer Jeff Goodrich who died of cancer last year — to a plaque honoring the lives of the other officers, should their illnesses be found to be work-related.
Since his diagnosis, Vasquez battled the city in court for medical retirement benefits available to public safety employees and for which he has been continually denied. In March, a judge ruled that Vasquez’ illness was work-related. The city has until July to appeal the position, according to Lee.
Next month, the couple would have celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary.
Vasquez is survived by his wife, Lee, and their daughters, Madison and Ashley, his father and step-mother Manuel and Blanca Vasquez, his mother and step-father Jo Ubina-Smith and Ron Smith, his sister Corrina Vasquez, his parents in-law Don and Cindy Sterling, and siblings in-law Jill Nash and Alexis and Morgan Sterling.
“He was so worried about his girls,” Lee wrote. “I’m also so thankful that the worry is gone… He is finally free.”
The Vasquez family asks that friends send pictures of Mark to firstname.lastname@example.org for a slide show at his viewing service, which is scheduled on this Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Green Hills Memorial Park, 27501 S. Western Ave. in Rancho Palos Verdes. A funeral service will be held at American Martyrs Church, 624 Fifteenth St., next Thursday, May 26 at 10 a.m. Donations can be made to the International Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research Center at www.imbcr.org/donatenow.htm in Mark’s name. For more information, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/markvasquez.