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San Jose rail yard shooting revisited, and a recent mass casualty incident likely averted

A man leans over his folded hands in front of a memorial with a poster of victims' photos.
A mourner pauses in front of a memorial for victims of a shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority light rail yard on May 27, 2021, in San Jose.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, May 26. I’m Justin Ray.

In a sign of the absurdity of the times, the mass shooting in Texas took place only days before the anniversary of another that rattled California.

On May 26, 2021, a shooting at Valley Transportation Authority rail yard in San Jose left nine workers dead. The victims were: Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63; and Lars Kepler Lane, 63; and Alex Ward Fritch, 49.

Since the tragedy, we have learned a lot about the transit maintenance worker responsible. The 57-year-old assailant had been employed at the VTA for at least eight years. Neighbors knew him as a “very strange, very quiet” guy. Authorities said the shooting was “a planned event.” He left behind cans of gasoline, suspected Molotov cocktails, 12 firearms and about 25,000 rounds of various types of ammunition.

“He had a list of people he was going to kill,” said Kirk Bertolet, 64, a 12-year VTA employee who was on duty at the time of the shooting. A transit clerical worker told The Times the victims would have had “nowhere to go” based on exit locations.

Following the attack, the public transit agency grounded light rail trains for almost three months, according to the San Jose Spotlight. VTA has also been under pressure to improve its workplace culture.

Meanwhile, this week San Jose police announced an arrest that had echoes of the tragedy. The San Jose Police Department received a report from a local construction company about a former employee “that had been engaging in stalking behavior towards multiple co-workers.”

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The man, who was fired from the company in January, was taken into custody May 19. A photo tweeted by the SJPD shows a cache of weapons, allegedly in his possession, that were removed using a gun violence restraining order. Police said they “no doubt prevented a mass casualty incident,” according to ABC 7.

Further reading:

A photo essay: Mourning after the rail yard shooting. Vigils showed tears shed after the tragedy that took the lives of longtime employees whose ages ranged from 29 to 63.

Workplace shootings are all too common in California. Here are some similarities and trends in workplace tragedies in the state.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Here are the victims of the Texas school shooting. A 10-year-old seen in a photo displaying their honor roll certificate. A wife and mother of four children described as “sweet, kind, loving.” They are among the 19 students and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Los Angeles Times

A cross is seen on a wall of a church, with people seated in pews.
Mourners attend a vigil at Sacred Heart Catholic Church for victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday.
(Jordan Vonderhaar / Getty Images)

Texas gunman: ‘I’m going to shoot an elementary school.’ We have learned that the gunman posted his intentions on social media before barricading himself inside a single fourth-grade classroom, where all the fatalities and injuries occurred, officials said. Los Angeles Times

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U.S. gun laws are getting looser, not stronger, despite more mass shootings. In recent weeks, including one in Buffalo, N.Y., devastating shootings have renewed calls for tighter gun restrictions. Experts, however, say the opposite — the loosening of gun laws — is almost certainly coming instead. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

L.A. County sheriff candidates ride ‘anyone but Villanueva’ wave, but lack name recognition. The race for Los Angeles County sheriff is shaping up as a test of how many controversies voters will tolerate from incumbent Alex Villanueva. His relationship with county leaders has hit new lows, however, voters are not familiar with the other eight candidates. Here’s who else is running. Los Angeles Times

Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a news conference in the Hall of Justice on Feb. 15, 2022
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a news conference in the Hall of Justice in February.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

San Diego cracks down on electric scooters this week with sweeping new rules that prohibit sidewalk usage and require operators to handle complaints about their scooters within one hour. “We all have seen too many abuses by individuals using the scooters under the old framework — underage riders, multiple riders on a scooter, scooters dumped anywhere and everywhere,” Councilmember Joe LaCava said. San Diego Union-Tribune

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

The owner of a Bakersfield business is accused of zip-tying a suspected thief before he and his two sons beat the man over a 45-minute period, sheriff’s officials said. The incident caused the alleged burglar “severe injuries.” John David Sparks, 50, Brenden Sparks, 23, and Trenton Sparks, 20, pleaded not guilty Monday to felony assault and false imprisonment with violence. Officials said petty theft and trespassing charges are also being sought against the alleged burglar. KGET

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

What experts say about the new coronavirus wave. As cases rise in California, residents may be unsure how to react. When should you wear a mask? How do you handle gatherings? What about indoor dining? We asked experts, and here’s what they said. Los Angeles Times

A child in a mask gets a shot in the upper arm.
Laurie Barnes holds the hand of son Brody Haber, 8, as he receives his COVID-19 booster on May 21.
(Alisha Jucevic / For The Times)

A new study looks into the survival techniques of California salamanders. The study showed that the creatures who live in canopies are able to parachute consistently, slowing their speed and controlling their movements. “This is a five-gram salamander that climbs the world’s highest trees and isn’t afraid to take a leap of faith,” said Christian Brown, a doctoral candidate in biology at the University of South Florida. The Guardian

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

The first all-female rock band on a major label. The pioneering 1970s rock band Fanny is the subject of a new documentary that opens in New York on Friday. It recounts the group’s origins with Filipina sisters June and Jean Millington, whose family moved to Sacramento when the sisters were adolescents. Bobbi Jo Hart, the filmmaker behind the doc, grew up in California “with piles of LPs all over the place” but had never heard of the band. When Hart finally did, “It really pissed me off,” she said. “It was just another example of amazing women that we don’t know about.” New York Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Overcast, 75 San Diego: Overcast, 69 San Francisco: Overcast, 64 San Jose: Overcast, 81 Fresno: Overcast, 99 Sacramento: Overcast, 87

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Katharine Lynne Wight:

When I turned 16, I was ready to get a job. Luckily my neighbor in Oakland Hills was a buyer for Capwell’s department store in downtown Oakland. Every weekend and on holidays, my father would take me and pick me up. I happily worked in the Cards and Candy Department as a wrapper/ringer. I learned courage there, as I had to quote the price of the gift wrapping to each customer. Not everyone was pleased, of course. I was so proud to be able to earn extra money all the way through college. My boyfriend would sometimes come pick me up after work, and we would drive across the Bay Bridge to dine at the Cathay House in San Francisco’s Chinatown!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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