Officer killed after collision at funeral

May 26, 2011 9:18:06 PM PDT
A Southern California motorcycle officer was killed and another was injured Thursday after they crashed while escorting a police funeral procession.

Officer Andrew Garton, 44, of the Hawthorne Police Department died after a collision with Sgt. Rex Fowler of the El Segundo Police Department. Garton was thrown into oncoming traffic and struck a sedan head-on, Torrance police Sgt. Jeremiah Hart said.

Fowler suffered a broken leg but his condition was stable, Hart said. The driver of the sedan was uninjured.

Officials from several law enforcement agencies had been attending the funeral of Manhattan Beach Officer Mark Vasquez, 36, who died of cancer earlier this month.

Motorcycle officers escorting funeral processions will often rapidly accelerate ahead of the group and block traffic at an upcoming intersection. Once the last car of the procession is through, the officers will accelerate to the next junction, and so on.

Eyewitness Joe Dixon told KABC-TV that he thought the motorcycle officers were traveling "way too fast."

"It looked like they were definitely leap-frogging, trying to get ahead of the procession," Dixon said.

Hart had no information about how quickly the officers were moving. The California Highway Patrol was investigating the cause of the crash and had no immediate details about what happened. "The training that these motorcycle officers go through is very extensive," Hart said. "Anytime they do a funeral procession, they get together and they have a plan and they talk about safety."

William Loveless, a retired CHP motorcycle officer and a director of the Municipal Motorcycle Officers of California, said outriders will routinely accelerate to beyond the speed limit so they can get from one off-ramp or side street to the next, while the procession itself moves slower than the speed limit.

"Most of our injuries come from the motorcycle having to speed ahead," Loveless said.

Garton had been with the Hawthorne police for more than seven years, including four as a motorcycle officer. He was married with two sons, ages 12 and 7.

Hawthorne Mayor Pro Tem Alex Vargas told the Los Angeles Times that Garton was a jovial and popular father who enjoyed riding bikes and playing baseball with his sons.

"He loved his kids," Vargas said. "He was the finest officer any police department could have."

Aerial footage shot after the crash showed a BMW motorcycle lying on its side, its police tail lights still blinking, and another mangled motorcycle on the other side of the road by the sedan it hit. The black car had a dented hood and a cracked window.

The funeral for Vasquez had been held at a Manhattan Beach church and his procession was moving south toward Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes when the collision occurred.