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Double Slaying Another Blow for City Workers

Times Staff Writer

For the men and women who fix the streets of Los Angeles, Thursday began mournfully as they prepared for a memorial service honoring a city engineer who was killed when he fell into a massive sinkhole caused by record rains.

Then, at of the end of the day came another blow. At a city maintenance yard downtown, a man toting an AK-47 rifle entered the office and opened fire on two employees, police said.

Killed were Rene Flores, 54, of Sunland and Ricardo Garris, 49, of Inglewood, both veterans of the city’s Bureau of Street Services. Thomas Sampson, 25, a bureau employee who had been reprimanded earlier for being late, was booked on suspicion of murder.

Flores and Garris were among the city’s elite corps of bridge repair experts, bureau Director William Robertson said. Flores managed the city’s two bridge crews, whose jobs are among the “most difficult” in the department, Robertson said.

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“They’re like our SWAT team,” he said. “They were our first responders” and “well known and very well liked.”

Flores had worked for the department for 22 years. He was a father of three, a grandfather of three, and engaged to be married, relatives said.

Garris, a bachelor, had 25 years with the department. Co-workers called him “Big Rick,” said Julie Butcher, general manager of the union local. Robertson described Garris as an outgoing “needler and a jokester.”

“He was a big fella and he was so full of life,” Robertson said. “He was always the first guy to respond to emergencies.”

Flores’ family said Garris was Flores’ right-hand man. “It’s just a shock,” said Jason Flores, 34, a son of the victim.

Relatives said Flores had a nonconfrontational nature and quick sense of humor. He also was a workaholic who often volunteered for weekend shifts. He planned to retire in two years and was looking forward to gardening, sailing and riding his Harley, they said.

“We are totally devastated,” Robertson said. “It’s been a tough month for the department.”

Public works employees have been working almost nonstop responding to damage from storms in recent weeks. City road crews have put their lives in danger responding to mudslides, road collapses and sagging retaining walls. City engineer Rory Shaw, 47, was killed when he fell into a sinkhole in Sun Valley that he was helping to repair.

At the scene that night, Robertson said, a public works board member asked, “Is it ever going to stop raining?”

Robertson said he had spent the week with workers talking about Shaw and studying safety issues. By week’s end, they were hoping to get past that tragedy.

"[But] then,” Robertson said, “we’re hit with the next tragedy.”

Robertson was driving home Thursday night when a supervisor called him and told him to turn around.

“I got real weak in the knees when I got the report” about the double slaying, he said.

The incident prompted Sen. Dianne Feinstein to say Friday that she would reintroduce the federal assault weapons ban in the Senate next week.

The 10-year ban, written by Feinstein, prohibits the making or importing of 19 military-type weapons, including semiautomatic assault rifles. It also restricts the manufacturing of ammunition cartridges that hold more than 10 rounds.

The ban expired last year after failing to gain majority support in the Senate and facing opposition by the National Rifle Assn.

Colleagues of the slain workers who arrived for work Friday were given a choice of going home or staying.

Paul Fowler, an acting supervisor and heavy equipment operator, chose to go home.

“We’re all touched, we’re all grieving right now,” Fowler said. “We’re going to go home and spend time with our families and come back on Monday and serve the people of Los Angeles.”


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