Life stories: Firefighter slain in vehicular assault lived to help others

2012-07-14T00:00:00Z Life stories: Firefighter slain in vehicular assault lived to help othersKimberly Matas Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Sterling Lytle was born to wear a uniform.

Sarah Lytle Barcelo didn't know whether her son would grow up to be a policeman, an Air Force pilot, a firefighter, a member of the SWAT team or a soldier, but she knew, from Sterling's earliest years, that he was destined for a career in public service.

Even in death Lytle continues to serve his community through organ donation. Lytle, 25, was removed from life support July 3 after being critically injured in a deliberate hit-and-run June 28 (see box on A9 for details). Before he was removed from life support, more than 200 friends and firefighters visited the intensive care unit to say their goodbyes.

From the time he was 2 years old, Lytle insisted his mother take him to the local firehouse for weekly visits. When he was a little older, he appointed himself guardian of their small midtown subdivision.

"He would stop people at the entrance to our complex and ask them if they lived there," Barcelo said. "He was a very smart, confident child."

As a teen, Lytle was the youngest docent to give tours at the Pima Air and Space Museum. He earned his pilot's license before he learned to drive a car.

At Catalina High Magnet School he was a member of the championship Air Force Junior ROTC drill team.

A history buff from an early age, Lytle never passed up a chance to visit San Diego and tour the U.S.S. Midway.

In 2007 he earned an emergency medical technician (EMT) certificate from Pima Community College and was close to completing his associate's degree in fire science through the school's Public Safety and Emergency Services Institute. Last year he started teaching classes in the EMT program.

"It was very evident to me that firefighting was what he was meant to do," said Kevin Chaffee, a Tucson Fire Department paramedic out of Station No. 13. "He had that strong desire to help people. He had the most integrity of any kid that age I ever met. He really impressed me and it made me want to help him attain his goals."

Chaffee became a friend and mentor to Lytle. He thought of the young firefighter as a little brother. Chaffee had volunteered with the Helmut Peak Fire Department early in his career and encouraged Lytle to do the same.

For nearly four years Lytle volunteered at Helmut Peak as a firefighter and training captain. The department's newest fire engine is named in his honor.

Helmut Peak Chief Alan Karnas still remembers how cautious Lytle was the first time he was allowed to drive the truck on an emergency call.

"His first time driving Code 3 (lights and sirens) we got dispatched for an unconscious person. We get into the truck and we're heading out on Mission Road. He has the lights flashing, the sirens blaring away and I looked over and say, 'Man, are we driving Miss Daisy? The least you can do is drive the speed limit.' And I flipped off the lights and sirens. I said, 'Once you drive at least the speed limit you can put the lights and sirens back on."

Although he wasn't getting paid, Lytle spent as much time as possible at the Helmut Peak department.

"He was hard to get ahold of at times," Chaffee said. "He would go from work to Pima College where he taught to Helmut Peak to volunteer. The day he got hired in Nogales was the happiest day of his life and it was equally happy for me."

Casey Barcelo said his stepson continues to give back to the community through the EMT students he trained who will go on to save lives.

"A part of Sterling is still alive," he said.

Aftermarket truck grill found at scene

$30,000 reward offered in firefighter's homicide

Family and friends of Sterling Lytle are offering a $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man who ran him down.

Lytle, a Nogales firefighter living in Tucson, was a passenger in a friend's car around 2:30 a.m. June 28 when a truck pulled behind them and the driver began honking his horn and flashing his headlights, said Det. Mike Walker of the Tucson Police Department. The vehicles were headed north on Alvernon Way when Lytle's friend pulled into a parking lot at the corner of Alvernon and Lee Street, north of Speedway.

Lytle's friend got out of his car to tell the other driver "everything was OK. At that point Sterling got out to talk to the driver and the suspect accelerated and struck Sterling. According to the witness, he said it was intentional," Walker said.

The truck tires left black tread marks across Lytle's body. His ribs were broken and the left side of his skull was crushed, family members said. The firefighter was taken to University of Arizona Medical Center. He was removed from life support and died on July 3.

There is no indication that either Lytle or his friend were a "premeditated target" of the truck's driver. Lytle's friend said he did not recognize the driver and there is no evidence of a confrontation preceding the incident, Walker said, though he would not reveal where Lytle and his friend had been earlier that night or where they were headed. The hit-and-run driver appeared to be the only person in the truck and he was bilingual, speaking English and Spanish.

Tucson police described the truck as a 2003 to 2005 Chevrolet Silverado or Chevrolet Avalanche. The color of the truck has been described as "sunset orange" - orange with a tinge of red. Police recovered an aftermarket grill from the pickup at the scene after the crash.

The family has set up an account to raise money to aid in the capture of the hit-and-run driver. To donate, go to any BBVA Compass Bank and ask about the Sterling Lytle Memorial Fund.

The series

This feature chronicles the lives of recently deceased Tucsonans. Some were well-known across the community. Others had an impact on a smaller sphere of friends, family and acquaintances. Many of these people led interesting - and sometimes extraordinary - lives with little or no fanfare. Now you'll hear their stories.

On StarNet

Did you know Sterling Lytle? Add your remembrance to this article online at azstarnet.com/lifestories

Sterling Lytle Memorial Scholarship Endowment

The Pima Community College Foundation has established a scholarship in memory of firefighter Sterling Lytle, who taught classes at the school. The endowment will benefit students in PCC's EMT and Fire Science programs.

To contribute to the endowment, send checks to the PCC Foundation, 4905C E. Broadway, Room 252, Tucson, AZ 85709-1320.

To make a donation via Visa or MasterCard, go to the foundation's Web page - www.pima.edu/give-to-pima - click on "Donate to Pima," then "Scholarships." After entering the amount and clicking on "Add Donation," type in "Sterling Lytle Memorial Scholarship Endowment" when asked in whose memory the gift is given.

For more information, call the PCC Foundation at 206-4646.

Additional information about Lytle and photos can be found at his memorial Facebook page: www.facebook.com/SterlingLytleInfoPage

To suggest someone for Life Stories, contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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