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27
May 2011
Hawthorne mourns loss of 'excellent' police officer
Photo: Officer Andrew Garton. Credit: Larry Guidi.

Officer Andrew Garton. (Photo: Larry Guidi)

Hawthorne police officers, civic leaders and residents were struggling Friday with the first loss of a police officer while on duty in the department's 89-year history.

Officer Andrew Garton was killed Thursday in a collision with an El Segundo officer during a funeral procession for a Manhattan Beach officer.

"It's the first officer we've lost," said Mayor Larry Guidi. Garton "was an excellent officer and very hard-working."

"This is a tragedy, but it will bring us all closer together," Guidi said. "You kiss your family goodbye in the morning, and you never know what will happen."

Garton was escorting the procession when he collided with the other motorcycle officer and was thrown into oncoming traffic on Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance, authorities said.

His death stunned and saddened fellow officers in the tight-knit South Bay city.

"I don't think it could have been worse. This tragedy occurred in an officer funeral procession," said Hawthorne Police Lt. Gary Tomatani.

The injured officer was identified as Sgt. Rex Fowler, a 20-year veteran of the El Segundo Police Department. He was listed in stable condition Thursday night with a broken leg, police officials said.

Garton and Fowler were escorting the funeral using a technique known as "leapfrogging," in which motorcycle riders move from the back of the procession to the front to block each intersection.

Garton, 44, died Thursday afternoon at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. His family was flown to his side by an L.A. County Sheriff's Department helicopter.

Garton was a 7 1/2-year department veteran who had spent the last four years as a motorcycle officer.

He also served as a longtime member of the department's SWAT team. Mayor Pro Tem Alex Vargas remembered Garton as a jovial, well-liked officer and a dedicated father who enjoyed riding bikes and playing baseball with his two boys, ages 7 and 12.

Vargas said he had lunch Wednesday at a Mexican restaurant with Garton, who was telling jokes and talking about his family.

"He loved his kids," Vargas said. "He was the finest officer any police department could have.... The loss hurts me, and it's going to affect the community."

Officers from several departments were escorting the funeral procession for Manhattan Beach Officer Mark Vasquez, 36, who died after a long battle with cancer.

The motorcade was heading from American Martyrs Catholic Church in Manhattan Beach to Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes along Hawthorne Boulevard when the collision occurred about 12:30 p.m. near 227th Street, said Torrance Police Sgt. J. Hart.

Audra Gendron, who lives on Hawthorne Boulevard, said she was inside her home when she heard a crash and ran outside to see what had happened.

"I saw one officer laying in the middle of the road," she said. "His motorcycle was down. He was rolling around trying to get up and then he went back down."

As people ran to help, Gendron said, she noticed a second officer down.

"You could see his boots at the front of the car," she said. "His motorcycle was laying to the left of the car. He was not moving."

The accident is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol.

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