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Calif. officer dead, another critical after funeral crash

The two motor officers collided during funeral for fellow officer, sending Officer Andrew Garton into oncoming traffic

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A motorcycle officer working to control traffic at a police funeral was killed following a collision with another officer on a motorcycle, authorities said.

Hawthorne police Officer Andrew Garton, 44, was helping escort the funeral procession Thursday for a fellow law enforcement officer who had died of cancer. The crash happened when Garton got into a collision with Sgt. Rex Fowler of the El Segundo Police Department.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, though one witness said the riders were traveling at a great rate of speed. Garton was thrown into oncoming traffic and struck a sedan head-on, Torrance police Sgt. Jeremiah Hart said.

Fowler suffered a broken leg but his condition was stable, Hart said. The driver of the sedan was uninjured.

Motorcycle officers often speed between intersections to allow a procession to pass unhindered by traffic lights. They will rapidly accelerate ahead of the group and block traffic at an upcoming intersection. Once the last car of the procession is through, the officers will accelerate to the next junction, and so on. Eyewitness Joe Dixon told KABC-TV that he thought the motorcycle officers were traveling "way too fast."

"It looked like they were definitely leap-frogging, trying to get ahead of the procession," Dixon said.

Hart had no information about how quickly the officers were moving and the California Highway Patrol, which was investigating the cause of the crash, had no immediate details.

"The training that these motorcycle officers go trough is very extensive," Hart said. "Anytime they do a funeral procession, they get together and they have a plan and they talk about safety."

Garton had been with the Hawthorne police for more than seven years, including four as a motorcycle officer. He was married with two sons, ages 12 and 7.

Hawthorne Mayor Pro Tem Alex Vargas told the Los Angeles Times that Garton was a jovial and popular father who enjoyed riding bikes and playing baseball with his sons.

"He loved his kids," Vargas said. "He was the finest officer any police department could have."

Garton was the first Hawthorne Police Department officer to be killed in the line of duty in its 89-year history, Chief Robert Fager said at a news conference late Thursday.

"The reality of what's happened is overwhelming," Fager said. "It beckons emotion from what we know we take an oath for in this department and in this community and in this state."

Aerial footage shot after the crash showed a BMW motorcycle lying on its side, its police tail lights still blinking, and another mangled motorcycle on the other side of the road by the sedan it hit. The black car had a dented hood and a cracked window.

Officials from several law enforcement agencies had been attending the funeral of Manhattan Beach Officer Mark Vasquez, 36, who died of cancer earlier this month.

The funeral for Vasquez had been held at a Manhattan Beach church and his procession was moving south toward Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes when the collision occurred.

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