Narcotics investigator Richard B. Hammack, who was gunned down by an alleged drug dealer May 11, 1992, was the first Antelope Valley deputy to be shot and killed in the line-of-duty since Constable Gordon H. Glidden in 1920.
Friends said Hammack, a 7 1/2-year veteran of the department, was a longtime Antelope Valley resident, a former semipro hockey player, an avid weight lifter, and a motorcycle enthusiast.
Above all, they said, Hammack was a deputy who loved his job.
“He was described to me as a policeman’s policeman – that’s the highest compliment you can give,” said Capt. Tony Welch, commander of the Antelope Valley sheriff’s station.
Hammack, 31, of Lancaster, was killed by three bullets in a gun battle that erupted as deputies tried to serve a search warrant to a suspected drug dealer, John White, in a mobile home park.
Reports of the shooting indicated that White may have fired his rifle through the mobile home’s walls, driving two deputies from the residence. White was later killed by deputies returning fire. All of the bullets that struck Hammack during the raid were determined to have been fired from the rifle of the suspect.
Hammack, who was not assigned to enter the house and was not wearing a bulletproof vest, was said by witnesses to have entered the mobile home when he heard gunshots.
Virtually all law enforcement officers are issued lifesaving bullet-proof vests and encouraged to wear them. But often that is not enough, as in the case of Hammack, who was fatally shot in the face.
Murder charges against Dell Nickos, White’s common-law wife, were dropped by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. She still faces felony charges related to the shootings and an amount of methamphetamine found in her mobile home.
Friends said Hammack had plans to marry his girlfriend, Tammy Zeiner. The wedding was to take place in June.
Hammack was born in Bakersfield and moved to the Antelope Valley when he was 7. He attended Quartz Hill High School. He worked hauling alfalfa for one of the area farms, but left the valley while still in his teens to play semipro hockey in the East, Deputy Chris Haymond said.
Hammack joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1984. His career included stints as a jailer in the Antelope Valley, a patrol deputy at Lynwood station, and as a detective with the fugitive detail in Los Angeles, before returning to the valley about two years ago.
He worked as a patrol deputy and then spent eight months on the gang detail before moving over to the Palmdale narcotics squad two months ago.
“He, like the rest of us, wanted to get the people that prey on society off the streets,” Haymond said.
Sgt. Greg Collins, who heads the valley gang detail, said Hammack was a motorcycle enthusiast who had a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that was kept in impeccable shape. He became an expert on outlaw motorcycle gangs.
“He projected an aura of respect to those he talked with,” Collins said. “He would walk up to store owners and shake their hands and let them know we were there.”
Deputies remembered Hammack as being so enthusiastic about his career that he would volunteer for seminars and ride-alongs during his off time.
“He truly loved to be a deputy sheriff,” Sgt. Bobby Denham said. “When he was a jailer he used to ride with me on his own time to learn more about being a patrol deputy. He wanted to get out on the streets and be a cop.”
Hammack is survived by his fiancée, Tammy L. Zeiner; son, Richard; father, Richard Hammack of Quartz Hill; mother, Bonnie Hammack of Bakersfield; and three sisters, Lori Banks, Jennifer Hammack, and Julianne Johnson, all of Bakersfield.