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Robbers Kill Guard, Steal 2 Big Rigs and $1 Million in Goods : Crime: One trailer is recovered, its merchandise largely intact. An officer calls L.A. 'the cargo-theft capital of the world.'

September 02, 1993|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gunmen shot a security guard to death in La Mirada early Wednesday and stole two big rigs containing clothing and other merchandise worth an estimated $1 million, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.

One of the truck trailers was found abandoned in the Florence area a few hours later, its cargo largely intact. But the other was still missing Wednesday night and the robbers remained at large.

The crime is symptomatic of a growing problem that has made the Los Angeles area "the cargo-theft capital of the world," with annual losses of more than half a billion dollars, said Sheriff's Sgt. G. Dewayne Shackelford, head of the multi-agency Cargo Criminal Apprehension Team.

Deputies said the robbers apparently drove up to the Pioneer Distribution Inc. offices at 16221 Heron Ave. sometime after 2 a.m. and fatally shot Reynaldo Galang, 51, of Glendale as he sat in his guard shack at the entrance to the facility.

Working swiftly, the gunmen stole two White Freightliner truck tractors on the grounds, hooked them up to a pair of 40-foot trailers and drove away, Shackelford said, adding that "the whole thing probably took five, maybe 10 minutes."

"The shooting of the guard was not typical of these crimes, but these are violent people who are doing this," the sergeant said. "They do their homework, so you can rest assured that they knew there was a guard there before they went there. And they knew what was in those trailers."

Although few details were available Wednesday, Shackelford said the group that staged the raid probably included a minimum of two or three, and perhaps as many as 10 or 12.

"For the most part, the people that do this are well organized," he said. "They're very mobile--working one night in Los Angeles, the next night maybe Fontana, the next night maybe Santa Ana.

"The key element is their ability to sell the stolen property. What they took could end up anywhere, but a lot of it will probably go to Mexico."

Wednesday's crime was discovered by a Pioneer employee who arrived at work at 3 a.m. to find Galang's body sprawled in the little guard shack, deputies said. A quick inventory showed that the truck tractors and the two trailers--both painted blue with the name Hanjin in large letters on the side--were missing.

Shackelford's team--which includes officers from the Sheriff's Department, the FBI, the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Port Police, and the Los Angeles and Vernon police departments--joined the investigation, and at about 8:15 a.m., one of the trailers was found parked at 2760 Florence Ave. "I understand that the cargo was intact," Shackelford said.

The two truck tractors and the other trailer--California license plate number UM5521--were not found.

Police records show that Pioneer Distribution was the victim of three other truck cargo thefts during the last year. A company security guard was beaten and handcuffed during a theft in December.

Pioneer has offered a $10,000 reward for the conviction of suspects in Wednesday's crime. Shackelford said that with the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach now the largest cargo facility in the world, the opportunities for theft are boundless.

"Typically, those people steal 10 truckloads a night," he said. "They'll take anything."

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