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1 motor officer dead, 1 critically injured in funeral procession

May 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
One motor officer died from injuries sustained in a collision that critically injured another motor officer in Torrance. The collision occurred during a funeral procession for a Manhattan Beach police officer.

Authorities say the accident happened at 227th Street and Hawthorne Boulevard just after 12:30 p.m. According to a spokesman for the Torrance Police Department, the officers collided with each other, and one officer was thrown into oncoming traffic. He was then hit by another vehicle.

The officers were rushed to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

"During the funeral procession, a motor officer from the Hawthorne Police Department and a motor officer from the El Segundo Police Department collided with each other," said Torrance Police Sgt. Jeremiah Hart. "Preliminary investigation is showing that both motor officers were traveling in the same direction."

One of the officers, from the Hawthorne Police Dept., died from his injuries at the hospital shortly before 5 p.m. The other officer, from the El Segundo Police Dept., was hospitalized in extremely critical condition.

Hawthorne police identified the deceased officer as Andrew Garton, 44, a seven-and-a-half-year veteran of the department. He was married with two children. He was also a Hawthorne Police SWAT officer, according to the department.

Hawthorne police said Garton was the first officer to die in the line of duty in the department's 89-year history. Police Chief Robert Fager said his death has affected every one of the department's 96 officers.

"The reality of what's happened is overwhelming," said Hawthorne Police Chief Robert Fager. "And the reality is unchartered territory for us as an organization."

The injured officer has been identified as El Segundo Police Sergeant in Traffic Rex Fowler. Shortly after 5 p.m. the hospital announced his condition had improved and was listed in stable condition with a broken leg. He is expected to make a full recovery.

All lanes of Hawthorne Boulevard were closed between Lomita and Sepulveda boulevards. The closure lasted into the evening.

Witnesses say that the motorcycle officers were traveling at a high rate of speed, as they were leap-frogging ahead of traffic.

"It's pretty chaotic when you're driving and there's tons of people, tons of motorcycle cops," said Suzanne Scott, who was in the funeral procession but did not witness the collision. "They were kind of doing like a leapfrog thing where they would speed up to stop traffic, we'd go, then they'd speed up. We were amazed how fast they were going and just how the other traffic wasn't really obeying the laws."

The rate of speed has not been confirmed. The crash is under investigation by the California Highway Patrol.

The funeral procession was for Manhattan Beach Police Officer Mark Vasquez, who died of cancer. Garton had volunteered to take part in the funeral procession.


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