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Hawthorne police officer killed in collision during funeral procession

Officer Andrew Garton was escorting the procession for a deceased Manhattan Beach officer when he and another motorcycle officer collided in Torrance. The injured El Segundo police officer was listed in stable condition.

May 27, 2011|By Richard Winton and Robert Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • An emergency crew aids El Segundo Police Officer Rex Fowler after he collided with another motorcycle officer in Torrance. Fowler was listed in stable condition.
An emergency crew aids El Segundo Police Officer Rex Fowler after he collided… (Sean Hiller / Daily Breeze )

A Hawthorne police officer died Thursday and another officer was critically injured after a motorcycle collision during a funeral procession for an officer who had passed away from cancer.

Officer Andrew Garton was escorting the procession for the deceased Manhattan Beach officer when he collided with the other motorcycle officer and was thrown into oncoming traffic in Torrance, authorities said.

Garton's death stunned and saddened fellow officers and officials in the tight-knit South Bay city.

The injured officer was identifed as Sgt. Rex Fowler, a 20-year veteran of the El Segundo Police Department. He was listed in stable condition Thursday night with a broken leg, police officials said.

Garton, 44, died Thursday afternoon at Harbor UCLA Medical Center. His family had been flown by a Sheriff's Department helicopter to be at his side, police officials said.

Garton was a 71/2-year department veteran who had spent the last four years as a motorcycle officer. He also served as a longtime member of the department's SWAT team.

Garton "was an excellent officer and very hard-working," Hawthorne Mayor Larry Guidi said. "This is a tragedy, but it will bring us all closer together. You kiss your family goodbye in the morning, and you never know what will happen."

Mayor Pro Tem Alex Vargas remembered Garton as a jovial, well-liked officer and a dedicated father who enjoyed riding bikes and playing baseball with his two boys, ages 7 and 12.

Vargas said he had lunch Wednesday at a Mexican restaurant with Garton, who was telling jokes and talking about his family.

"He loved his kids," Vargas said. "He was the finest officer any police department could have.... The loss hurts me, and it's going to affect the community."

Officers from several departments were escorting the funeral procession for Manhattan Beach Officer Mark Vasquez, 36, who died recently after a long, hard-fought and public battle with cancer.

The motorcade was heading from American Martyrs Catholic Church in Manhattan Beach to Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes along Hawthorne Boulevard when the collision occurred about 12:30 p.m. near 227th Street, Torrance Police Sgt. J. Hart said.

Audra Gendron, who lives on Hawthorne Boulevard, said she was inside her home when she heard a crash and ran outside.

"I saw one officer laying in the middle of the road," she said. "His motorcycle was down. He was rolling around trying to get up and then he went back down."

As people ran to help, Gendron said, she noticed a second officer down.

"You could see his boots at the front of the car," she said. "His motorcycle was laying to the left of the car. He was not moving."

The accident is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol.

richard.winton@latimes.com

robert.lopez@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writer Wally Skalij contributed to this report.

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