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Jason Richard Bitz, 23

Jason Bitz, a 23-year-old white man, was fatally shot by an off-duty officer Monday, Oct. 31, near Del Amo Boulevard and Studebaker Road in Lakewood, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's officials said the off-duty officer said he heard noises outside his home on Longworth Avenue, went outside and found two people trying to break into a vehicle parked across the street.

According to the account of the officer, whose name was not disclosed, when the officer confronted the men, they ran and he pursued them in his personal car.

During the pursuit, the officer got out of his car and Bitz got into the vehicle's driver's seat. The officer told sheriff's officials that Bitz reached into his waistband and the officer fired his gun four times.

A family friend says Bitz was helping to change a tire, not trying to steal a vehicle. Bitz had been given $12 to help change the tire on a van and was doing so about 6 a.m. when the off-duty officer came out of his home, said Rita Gomez, a drug and alcohol counselor and friend of the Bitz family. He was given the keys to the vehicle by the owner's son, she said.

Bitz, she said, "was not a saint. He was on parole. That's probably why he ran."

But, she added, "This kid was not breaking into anything ... he wasn't stealing anything. And he shot him."

Sheriff's officials are looking into whether Bitz had permission to use the car, and the coroner's office has confirmed that he was unarmed when he was shot, said sheriff's Lt. Eddie Hernandez. Authorities are still looking for the second man.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact the sheriff's homicide bureau at (323) 890-5500. Tipsters who'd like to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS (800) 222-8477.

-- Paloma Esquivel

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