South Bay police reel from double tragedy
While the Manhattan Beach Police Department continues to grieve the recent loss of Officer Mark Vasquez to cancer, the California Highway Patrol is investigating events that led to a fatal vehicle accident during Vasquez’s funeral procession last Thursday, taking the life of one police officer and seriously injuring another.
Officials expect a minimum of 90 days before the CHP completes its investigation.
Vasquez died three weeks ago, after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 36.
Family, friends and law enforcement officers all from throughout Los Angeles County were further stunned when motorcycle officers Andrew Garton, 44, of the Hawthorne Police Department and Sgt. Rex Fowler, 47, of the El Segundo Police Department collided during Vasquez’s two-mile long funeral procession. Garton died and Fowler suffered a broken leg.
Garton is the first HPD officer to die in the line of duty.
Officers and other members of the public have expressed condolences for those affected by the accident in a journal set up in Manhattan Beach’s Police and Fire Department lobby, 420 15th St.
“This is just a tragedy on top of another tragedy,” said new MBPD Police Chief Eve Irvine, who was sworn in less than 24 hours before the accident. “This is the first time I can remember – and I’ve been in law enforcement in the South Bay for 29 years – where one incident directly affects so many different departments in the South Bay. Hawthorne is dealing with the loss of an officer; El Segundo is dealing with an officer who was hurt; the MBPD is dealing with the loss of an officer to cancer; and Torrance is dealing with it because it happened in their city. We’re all dealing with this. It’s a very strange and unique situation.”
Garton and Fowler were two of several on-duty motorcycle officers who were leading the procession from Vasquez’s funeral service at American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach to his burial at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes. At roughly 12:30 p.m., the motorcycles collided with each other while traveling southbound on Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance near the intersection of 227th Street. Garton was projected into oncoming traffic, where he was struck by a Toyota sedan.
Both officers were taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance. Garton’s family was flown in a helicopter to his hospital bedside where he succumbed.
Fowler underwent surgery and is expected to return to work in six months, according to Torrance Police Department Sgt. Jeremiah Hart. The MBPD sent officers to help cover the Hawthorne Police Department during the immediate aftermath of the accident.
“We were horrified at learning about the accident and know that Mark would have been crushed,” said Jill Nash, Vasquez’s sister-in-law. “But, we also accept the risk these men face every day and honor their heroism. My heart and deepest sympathies are with the Garton family.”
Fowler is a 20-year veteran with the ESPD, where he serves as a traffic and animal control sergeant.
Garton had worked for the HPD for more than seven years, was a member of the department’s SWAT team and served as a motorcycle officer for the last four years.
A “Rest in Peace Officer Garton” Facebook page was set up after his death.
“I was…so moved by the way the policeman and women from all over L.A. came out to honor [Mark] with their service,” wrote Allison Aller on the page. “Officer Garton gave his all for such a high purpose.
Vasquez was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2007, nearly two years after he was hired at the MBPD. On May 15, he died in his Torrance home surrounded by his family.
Nash described his funeral as “a perfect celebration of [his] life.”
“His precession was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed,” she said. “We were in awe of the stretch of ‘black and whites’ and lights following behind us and I was honored to be a part of it all.”
Vasquez is survived by his wife and two daughters, ages nine and seven.
Garton is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 12 and seven.
“There is a bond of camaraderie among the police,” wrote retired Hawthorne motorcycle Police Officer Bruce Scwhartz on Garton’s Facebook page. “That bond is even more special among those in special assignments, like motors. The ties to law enforcement bonds are forever. At this time, all of us share in the grief and mourn this tragedy, whether still active on the job or retired.”
The Vasquez Family has asked that donations in Mark’s honor be made to the International Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research Center at .imbcr.org/donatenow. For more information, visit caringbridge.org/visit/markvasquez.
The Hawthorne Police Officers Association has established a trust fund for Officer Garton’s family. Donations may be made at Western Federal Credit Union, 14500 S. Aviation Blvd. in Hawthorne. Donations should be made out to: HPOA c/o Officer Andrew Garton’s Family and the account number is 654404-006.
A viewing will be held today from 4 to 9 p.m. and a memorial service will be held tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., both at Seacoast Grace Church, 5100 Cerritos Ave. in Cypress. Immediately following the memorial service, Garton’s burial will be held at Forest Lawn, 4771 Lincoln Ave. in Cypress. Updates on the services will be posted on the Department’s Facebook and Twitter pages at intervals throughout the afternoon. Also, until 1 p.m. on Saturday, Chili’s restaurants at in Manhattan Beach and Torrance will donate 15 percent of proceeds to Garton’s family for customer’s who mention his name. For more information, visit facebook.com/hawthornepolice or twitter.com/hawthornepd