HACIENDA HEIGHTS, Calif. – A manhunt was on for an individual wanted for questioning after a limousine carjacking in this Los Angeles suburb left a chauffeur dead.
The chauffeur was 70-year-old Robert “Bob” Gooch of Montclair, Calif., a full-time employee of City of Industry, Calif.-based Lincoln Limousine for three years.
Lincoln owner Gerardo Ortiz said Gooch was on his way back from a birthday outing when he stopped for gas. A man carrying a squeegee approached him and asked if he could clean the windows of the limousine but then proceeded to jump in the vehicle and drive away. Ortiz believes the keys had been left in the vehicle.
Gooch was dragged with the car for about 40 feet before the carjacker hit a pole and put the white, 180-inch stretch in reverse. The perpetrator backed the car over Gooch twice and left the scene, abandoning the limousine three miles away.
Gooch was taken to a local hospital but later died from his injuries.
The gas station’s surveillance cameras caught the crime on tape, recording the face of a likely suspect, and the television show America’s Most Wanted was planning to run a segment on him.
“They know who he is, I believe, and they know who he hangs around with, but we don’t have a name for him,” offered Ortiz.
Gooch’s death has been difficult for Ortiz. “My daughter looked at me and said, ‘Dad, Bob gave his life for our business.’ That hurts. It makes me feel horrible. My business isn’t worth that much. But it is now, isn’t it?
“In this industry, you start out thinking your car is so special and then you realize it’s just a tool,” he continued. “The car is not as important as a chauffeur. The chauffeur is the one that does the wheels right.”
And there was no question in Ortiz’s mind about whether Gooch, a Korean War veteran, did just that.
“He was basically everything that anybody would like in a chauffeur,” the eight-car operator said. “Bob was a man of conviction, a man of integrity. He’d go out of his way to take care of people; he’d try to make the most of their event. He always was concerned with the client. What else can you ask for?”
The accident has led other chauffeurs at Lincoln Limousine to say they will do things differently.
“If somebody approaches me, I’m going to ask them to step away because I don’t want the same thing to happen to me,” said Daniel Gutierrez, Gooch’s co-worker. He also advised chauffeurs to be more aware of their surroundings and to avoid stopping at a gas station late at night.
“Put the keys in your pocket,” added Ortiz, “or let the car go; don’t even try to save it.”
Ortiz has set up a memorial fund benefiting Gooch’s wife of 40 years and two sons. Gooch had no life insurance.
Send checks payable to Robert Gooch Memorial Fund to Lincoln Limousine, Box 5302, Diamond Bar, Calif. 91765-5302.
- Rebecca Christiansen