Click photo to enlarge
This is an undated photo released by the Oakland Police Department of Oakland Police officer Sgt. Daniel Sakai. A man wanted for violating his parole killed Sakai and two other police officers and gravely wounded another in two shootings Saturday, March 21, 2009, the first after a routine traffic stop and the second after a massive manhunt ended in gunfire, authorities said. The gunman was also killed. (AP Photo/Oakland Police Department)

Even on his first day in the Oakland police recruit academy in 2000, Daniel Takashi Sakai had an infectious grin and an enthusiasm for his new career that instantly drew others to him.

These qualities would lift him up the ranks in the Oakland Police Department from patrol officer to canine handler, patrol rifle officer, academy firearms instructor, sergeant and eventually SWAT team entry leader.

Close friend and former partner Officer Cesar Garcia first met Sakai when the two were raw recruits, going through a testing process to get into the academy.

"There was an opening event, explaining to recruits what to expect," Garcia said. "First thing when I got there, I walk in and there's this guy next to me with this big old cheesy smile, ear to ear. It was Dan, and right away you could tell he was someone who was really friendly and approachable. We started talking and wished each other good luck, hoping we'd make it through to the academy."

They both made it, graduated, then went through field training together and soon became partners on patrol for about a year. Even when on separate assignments, they remained close friends, often meeting for breakfast or going to Cal basketball or football games. They spoke just last week about an upcoming ski trip.

Sakai, who would have turned 36 on April 6, lived in Castro Valley with his wife, Jennifer, a UC Berkeley police officer, and their 3-year-old daughter, Jojiye.

He was shot and killed by Lovelle Mixon along with three fellow officers Saturday when he led his SWAT team into an East Oakland apartment.

"His life was here (at OPD) and at home," said Lt. Peter Lau, one of Sakai's supervisors. "He was relatively quiet, but he commanded his young troops' respect. He cared about those youngsters, and not just their work. He poured his life into various programs here to train other officers."

"Dan was definitely the person you wanted as a best friend," Garcia said. "He was a great father and husband. Probably the best day of his life was when his daughter was born. He was so excited."

Sakai grew up in Big Bear Lake, a resort community in Southern California where he quickly developed a love for outdoor sports. By age 9, he was involved in soccer and skiing. He was an Eagle Scout, hiking mountain trails and paddling a canoe down the Colorado River.

He graduated from Big Bear High School, then moved up to the Bay Area to attend UC Berkeley, where he studied forestry and became a huge Cal sports fan, friends said. He was a member of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity and worked as a community service officer, escorting students around the campus at night.

A fellow campus officer called him the "most levelheaded supervisor" anyone could ask for. After he graduated, Sakai spent a year in Japan teaching English.

"Dan brought so much to life," Garcia said. "He was a person you looked up to. You admired him and wanted to be like him. He wanted to be the best he could be. He wanted to serve the community here in Oakland. He loved being a police officer."