Three weeks ago, Calvin Gipson landed his dream job, working as a guard for an armored car company in Vernon. His fiancee tried to talk him out of it--too dangerous, she said. But the 27-year-old Gipson wasn't to be deterred.
"He didn't want to talk about it," recalled Hortense Hill, the fiancee's mother. "He said, 'No, everything out there is dangerous--just walking the streets. You just have to trust in the Lord.' "
Hill and her daughter, Denise, were grieving Friday at the young couple's new home, a tidy yellow bungalow in South-Central that they bought last spring. Gipson was shot to death Thursday night as he waited inside an armored car for a partner who was picking up a delivery from a post office on San Vicente Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Sheriff's investigators were trying to determine who shot Gipson in the course of robbing the Dunbar Armored car, and how the gunman managed to breach the car's bulletproof security system.
The car was found abandoned on a nearby residential street, not long after Gipson's partner returned to find it missing. Gipson, who had been driving, was lying in the back, shot in his upper torso, authorities said.
Sheriff's investigators declined to say whether the car had been robbed, but Dunbar issued a statement from its corporate headquarters in Hunt Valley, Md., saying the vehicle had been "emptied of its cargo." Company spokesman Sean Gibbons refused to say what had been taken or to disclose its value.
Dunbar Armored is the third-largest armored car company in the country and, like its competitors, has endured numerous robberies over the years, some of them violent. Although industry officials tend to emphasize their efforts to minimize danger, guarding an armored car remains a relatively perilous job.
From 1994 to 1998, at least 13 armored car guards were killed in California and another 21 were shot and wounded, according to statistics compiled by the Independent Armored Car Operators Assn.
The association's former president, Dan Connolly, who runs his own armored car company, Armored Courier Service in Santa Clara, said Dunbar is somewhat controversial within the industry for using armored cars that some believe are not among the safest available.
Most other major armored car companies, including his own, use cars that enclose the driver in a bulletproof bulkhead, including a partition between the driver and the passenger, he said.
Dunbar, Connolly said, uses cars that have no such partition. Although no one should be able to enter the car unless the driver opens the door, he said, there have been cases in which drivers have been caught off guard by gunmen who, for instance, pose as fellow company employees.
Gibbons, the Dunbar spokesman, declined to discuss any aspects of the company's equipment or procedures, saying only that its standards "are among the highest in the industry."
Gibbons declined to speculate about Gipson's actions.nor would he say how much training Gipson had received.
Hortense Hill said Gipson had not yet received a bulletproof vest, which is standard equipment for most armored car guards. She said she didn't know why.
Times staff writer Elise Gee contributed to this report.