Bridge dedicated in honor of slain Oceanside police Officer Dan Bessant

Bessant fatally shot in December 2006

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - City officials dedicated a beach-area bridge Friday in the name of an Oceanside police officer who was gunned down in the line of duty by gang members more than six years ago.

The span over the San Luis Rey River on North Pacific Street just south of Oceanside Harbor was christened during a late-afternoon ceremony in honor of Dan Bessant, who was felled by a sniper in a crime-ridden neighborhood on Dec. 20, 2006.

About 6:30 that evening, Bessant, 25, was assisting a fellow officer with a traffic stop at Arthur Avenue and Gold Drive when 17-year-old gang member Meki Gaono shot him with a .22-caliber rifle from behind a brick mailbox in front of a cohort's home about a half-block away.

Two gang associates with Gaono also opened fire in the direction of the officers, but the shots from their pistols did not hit anyone, according to police and prosecutors.

Bessant, a married father of a 2-year-old son, died at a hospital a short time later. He had been with the Oceanside Police Department for three years.

Gaono was convicted of first-degree murder in 2009 and sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus 61 years. Co-defendant Penifoti Taeotui, who was 16 at the time of the slaying, also was convicted of murder and ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison, although he did not fire the fatal shot.

Citing insufficient evidence, a judge in 2008 dismissed all charges against 17-year-old Jose Compre, the third gang member accused of taking part in the shooting.

In a 2007 court filing, a prosecutor stated that the defendants had targeted Bessant because he was serving as a neighborhood policing officer in charge of instituting tougher enforcement in an area rife with gang violence.

In a grim coincidence, the victim's educator father, Steve Bessant, had mentored his son's future killer when Gaono attended El Camino High School and a continuation school.

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