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False Alarm Leads to Man's Fatal Shooting

Tragedy: Victim, 77, is wounded by Huntington Beach officer as he emerged from his living quarters at manufacturing company.

September 12, 1996|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Ted Franks was 77 and had set up housekeeping at the offices of a small manufacturing firm that helped him turn his dream engineering project into a reality.

He worked late nights, listening to waltzes and cooking up his special chili in a makeshift kitchenette in the quiet industrial park just south of the Huntington Beach Mall.

But at 4:25 a.m. Wednesday, Franks stepped into a dim hallway and was shot by a Huntington Beach police officer, whose identity was not disclosed.

The officer had come upon Franks, police said, while investigating a burglary alarm that turned out to be false.

Franks stumbled back into his bedroom, bleeding from a wound to his left leg, and died nearly two hours later at UCI Medical Center in Orange. The cause of death was possibly blood loss or a heart attack, said Huntington Beach Police Lt. Dan Johnson.

"Ted's so harmless," said Steve Ramelot, owner of Tolemar Manufacturing, where the shooting occurred. "He was just an old man in his underwear."

Police had responded to a silent alarm at a neighboring business, one of the more than 90% of commercial burglary alarms that turn out to be false, Johnson said.

But an open door at the manufacturing company--where Franks had lived Mondays through Fridays for the last nine months--led officers to believe there was a burglary in progress, according to Johnson.

"One officer went to a door to the office at the front of the warehouse," he said. "The door swung open, the officer was confronted by an elderly male, and an officer-involved shooting occurred."

The 31-year-old officer who shot Franks has been with the Police Department for seven years and spent three previous years with another law enforcement agency, Johnson said. The officer was counseled Wednesday by a department psychologist and was placed on administrative leave for several days--routine in all officer-involved shootings, Johnson said.

"The officer hasn't been interviewed, so right now it would be inappropriate to speculate on what happened," Johnson said. "He's very upset."

Johnson said the two officers who entered the warehouse in the 7400 block of Lorge Circle shouted warnings for anyone inside to immediately surrender. The second officer was providing cover for the first officer when the first officer fired at Franks, who was living in a front office, Johnson said.

The death marks the department's fourth officer-involved shooting since September 1995 and is being investigated by the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Huntington Beach police officials also are conducting their own inquiry.

Franks, a World War II veteran, had been an aerospace engineer for decades and had been staying at the industrial park to avoid the long commute to his mobile home near Temecula, said Ramelot, the 21-year-old owner who devised his company name by spelling his last name backward.

Ramelot said Franks was scheduled to leave Wednesday night for a utility trade show in Denver to show off his prized project: spheres to mark electrical high wires, designed to keep aircraft from colliding with the wires. "One more day and he wouldn't have even been here," Ramelot said.

Franks began designing the marking spheres, and a system of bolting them to high wires by helicopter, about three years ago. He brought the design to Tolemar--which also manufactures motorcycle parts--about 18 months ago.

Described as energetic and warm, Franks often regaled his young employer and other co-workers with stories of the war and the time he spent as a master sergeant in the South Pacific.

"He never got shot," Ramelot said of the war years. "He was 77 years old and he never even got sick. He was healthier than us."

Franks grew up in Mojave, married his high school sweetheart and raised three children. He had 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. His wife, Mary, died three years ago, and Ramelot said the fit and genial engineer worked at a frenetic pace to keep his mind off his loss.

Members of Franks' distraught family were making plans late Wednesday to come to Orange County from Arizona, Texas and Hawaii.

"I can't fathom how this can happen," said Franks' son, 48-year-old Dennis Franks. "Being almost 80 years old at your own place of business, unarmed, I don't think there's any excuse. They show these things on TV where there are guys with guns all around them, and [the police] aren't shooting them. It's hard for me to believe."

Dennis Franks and his wife, Hattie, 48, of Lake Havasu City in Arizona, said Ted Franks had just helped them buy a new family car. The man they lovingly called "Papa" was thrilled that his invention was taking off and looking forward to making some money, Dennis said.

"This was retiring for him," his son laughed. "Even after my mom died, he kept right on working. We thought it was good for him because they'd been together for 50-some years. We encouraged him to keep doing something."

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