El Segundo Slaying : Robbers Knew Firm's Layout, Police Believe

Times Staff Writer

Police investigating the shooting death of a former schoolteacher who attempted to face down robbers at her family's El Segundo-based catering company believe that the crime was committed by people familiar with the firm's operation.

Sandra Sanders, 43, was killed by a bullet to the chest, witnesses said, after she rushed up to one of the two robbers, yelling, "Get out!" Sanders, who survived the rigors of New York City's crime-ridden South Bronx, where she taught for 18 years, is the first homicide victim since 1982 in the beach bedroom community.

Lt. Jack Wayt, head of El Segundo Police Department's detective bureau, said the robbers appeared to know the layout of Atlas Foods International in the 200 block of California Street, where the shooting took place. Investigators believe the men had seen the interior of the business before or been given a detailed description of it. But there are no suspects yet, Wayt said.

The firm's El Segundo office services 48 kitchen vans that roam the South Bay.

Before coming to California in 1984 to help out in Atlas Foods, which is owned by her stepfather, Sanders had taught at an elementary school in the South Bronx, according to the firm's manager, Casey Howell. She planned to return to teaching in the fall to complete 20 years' service and become eligible for full retirement benefits, Howell said.

Sanders was in another room at Atlas Foods about 4:30 p.m. Friday when two men in their 20s walked in carrying handguns and headed for the cashier's cage, which had just received the day's deposits from most of the mobile kitchens, Howell said.

'She Advanced on Them'

One of the men began gathering about $5,000 from the cashier's cage, Howell said, while the other was standing in an aisle, keeping everyone at a distance.

"Sandra walked in on the scene," he added. "She had cut off their only way out. She advanced on them."

Howell said Sanders began yelling at the man in the aisle, "Get out!" and kept talking loudly as she came up to the gunman "eyeball to eyeball."

The robber shot her "point blank" in the chest and Sanders "fell away from their escape route," Howell said.

The two man ran out and drove away in a dark gray Camaro or Firebird, Wayt said.

Sanders was pronounced dead on arrival at RFK Memorial Hospital in nearby Hawthorne.

El Segundo residents have taken the crime "a little bit personal," Wayt said.

Gardena Man Convicted

"Because the city is small and close-knit, the news travels quickly," the police official said. "People know what is going on. . . . They pride themselves on the low crime rate here."

The last homicide in the community of 15,000 was in 1982 when the body of Aaron Bruce Collier Jr., 26, of Lawndale was found in the 1900 block of El Segundo Boulevard. Collier, who police say was involved in a drug deal that went sour, had been shot in the back of the neck. A Gardena man was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

At Atlas Foods, Howell said, employees are distraught this week.

"She was just a nice person, always willing to help anybody with anything," he said. "She loved kids and people in general. She had a belief that nobody would ever hurt anybody."

Police said Sanders made a mistake by confronting the robbers. "God knows what was in her mind," Wayt said.

In general, he said, people who find themselves facing criminals should "try to avoid antagonizing them. . . . The whole key is to keep yourself out of the position to be a victim."

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