LOS ANGELES (AP) — Though he's modestly deflecting praise, the reserve sheriff's deputy who captured a man suspected of being the city's most dangerous arsonist smiled for media cameras as he credited his colleagues and vigilant citizens for the arrest.
By day, 30-year-old Shervin Lalezary works as a Beverly Hills real estate attorney. But at 3 a.m. Monday, he was working hours past the official end of his volunteer shift when he pulled over a Dodge van in Hollywood.
He and hundreds of other law enforcement officers had been hunting nonstop for an arsonist described as a white man between 20 and 30 years old with a short ponytail and a receding hairline.
"That was very distinctive information about a person, and as I pulled next to him and shined my spotlight at the car, I saw a male, white, receding hairline and short ponytail and that was ... a big key," said Lalezary at a news conference Tuesday before flashing a broad smile.
The department had received countless suspicious person calls that night, and like many in law enforcement, Lalezary said he was inspired to work long after his shift ended to try and catch the suspect.
"Having gone to the different fire calls the nights before and seeing residents flee from their homes and basically run for their lives, the second I realized this may be the individual, I just felt a big sense of relief," Lalezary said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Lalezary quickly notified the entire network of officers searching for the arsonist. "Immediately he had backup ... and two (Los Angeles police) officers were right behind him," Whitmore said.
The driver, Harry Burkhart, was arrested on suspicion of setting more than 50 fires since last week, burning cars in apartment buildings in Hollywood and nearby areas.
Lalezary helped make the collar on what was his third solo patrol shift. As a volunteer, he earns $1 a year.
"I can tell you this is a lot more exciting than my day job," Lalezary said after the arrest.
He declined to speak further to The Associated Press by phone or at the news conference Tuesday, referring questions to the Sheriff's Department.
"He believes in the community service aspects of the reserve deputy," Whitmore said. "This is part of the job for him, and he doesn't want to talk about himself because he believes he's part and parcel of a larger effort."
Lalezary was born in Tehran, Iran, and moved to the U.S. with his family about 25 years ago.
He has a law degree from the University of Southern California and was admitted to the California bar in 2008.
He became interested in law enforcement in college, said his 35-year-old brother, Dr. Arash Lalezary.
"He was fascinated by it," Arash Lalezary said. "I've always been worried about him. ... Every time he goes out I say, 'Be careful, be careful.'"
Lalezary became a reserve deputy in 2007 and after training was certified as a Level 3 reservist, allowing him to perform traffic duties and work with sworn deputies, Whitmore said.
Several weeks of additional training made him a Level 2 reservist who could ride along with a deputy on patrol. In December, he became a Level 1 and was permitted to patrol alone.
Equipped with a department-issued gun and patrol car, Lalezary is attached to the West Hollywood sheriff's station and works at least 20 hours a month, Whitmore said.
Another brother, Shawn, also is a reserve deputy.
Despite the acclaim, Lalezary has no plans to take further training and become a full-time deputy, Whitmore said.
Sheriff Lee Baca has said Lalezary's reserve status takes nothing away from his achievement.
"This is one of the most significant arrests anyone can make — regular or reserve," the sheriff said Monday. "And this will follow him for the rest of his life."
Associated Press writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer contributed to this report from West Hollywood, Calif.