02/14/2008

Police line up to show support for slain LA SWAT officer

By Thomas Watkins
The Associated Press
Officer Down: Officer Randal Simmons

LOS ANGELES — Members of the thin blue line lined up by the hundreds today, waiting outside a fast-food restaurant to buy burgers in remembrance of a slain SWAT officer.

The day's proceeds would go to the family of Officer Randal Simmons, who was gunned down in a house raid last week, becoming the first SWAT officer to die in the line of duty since the elite Los Angeles Police Department unit was formed in 1967.

Simmons' partner, Officer James Veenstra, was wounded in the jaw during the confrontation in which five people were killed. Veenstra, 51, was released from a hospital Monday.

Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad technicians, canine handlers, patrol captains and plainclothes detectives were among those in the jumbo line, which by lunchtime snaked out the back of a downtown Burger King restaurant and down the length of a city block.

The officers, as well as members of the public and law enforcers from other agencies, all turned out.

Restaurant co-owner Ralph Cimmarusti estimated he would sell as many as 40,000 patties, raising about $100,000 in sales and donations for the Simmons family. The store typically sells about 1,000 burgers a day.

"We owe it to the LAPD family," Cimmarusti said. The store donated staff time and the cost of the food.

It took about an hour for some in line to reach the counter. Capt. Lance Smith, who attended college in Washington state with Simmons in the 1970s, was among those who waited patiently for a Whopper. He said the department was still reeling from news of Simmons' death.

"You just don't expect it to happen to some," Smith said. "You had no vision of him ever being killed. He was superhuman."

Simmons died Thursday when he entered the home of Edwin Rivera, 20, who had called police to report that he had killed his father and two brothers. The standoff ended when a police sniper killed Rivera.

Simmons, 51, was a 20-year SWAT veteran and one of the unit's most senior members. He was known to fellow officers as "the rock" and was involved in church outreach programs including mentoring children.

His funeral is scheduled Friday.

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