The shooting death of a transient after an apparent theft at the downtown Amtrak station did not surprise some depot workers, who blame transients for unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the station.
Ticket personnel at the station on Kettner Boulevard at Broadway said Saturday that the growing presence of transients at the depot was bound to escalate into incidents of violence.
"If this incident is going to mean more police coverage, that's outstanding," said an Amtrak ticket employee who asked that his name not be used.
An unidentified man suspected of taking a woman's wallet was shot to death Friday night in the station by an Amtrak security guard shortly after 7 p.m. when he appeared to be reaching for a weapon, San Diego police Sgt. Anne O'Dell said Saturday. No wallet was found, police said.
The man, described by police as a transient, died at 7:43 p.m. at UC San Diego Medical Center. Deputy Coroner Jerry Hillbrand said the man appeared to be about 35 years old but had not been identified by late Saturday.
Amtrak security guard Angel Munoz approached the man after suspecting him of taking a woman's wallet, O'Dell said. The man allegedly struck Munoz in the face and a struggle ensued.
Munoz unsuccessfully tried to subdue the man with a Taser gun, a device designed to incapacitate attackers by jolting them with a shock of electricity, O'Dell said. The security guard delivered three jolts with the Taser.
"After telling him (the suspect) to stop, the man put his hand in his jacket as if he had a weapon," O'Dell said.
Police said Munoz then fired two shots from his .38-caliber revolver, striking the man in the abdomen.
San Diego Police Sgt. Dave Kelly said the investigation into the shooting is continuing. He said Munoz was not arrested because the shooting appears to be justifiable.
Amtrak West Coast spokesman Arthur Lloyd said Saturday by telephone from San Francisco that he was not aware of any problems with transients at the San Diego depot. He said an armed Amtrak security officer is on duty when the station is open from 5 a.m. to midnight.
However, a second ticket employee on duty Saturday said that sometimes as many as 50 homeless persons congregate at the depot.
"I don't feel that it's unsafe (per se)," he said. "But among the homeless there are a lot of mentally deficient people that are on the streets, and those are a significant number of the homeless. Those are the ones that can flip out anytime."
The depot's public restrooms and waiting areas serve as "magnets" for the homeless, he said. And though Amtrak security officers often escort transients out of the station, many find their way back in, he said.
"Let's face it, it's the Number-1 hang-out for transients," said a longtime station employee.
"It's about time that we get more police coverage down here," he added.
Ticket agents and clerks at the station said that passengers have on numerous occasions registered complaints about problems with transients.