Firefighter Shot in Northridge;
The wound is not life-threatening. Owner of burning homeallegedly fired round, and later is believed to have killed himself.

Copyright 2002 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times

All Rights Reserved
Los Angeles Times...12/18/2002

Andrew Blankstein, Michael Krikorian and Richard Fausset, Times Staff Writers

A 72-year-old man apparently set his Northridge house afire Tuesday, shot a responding firefighter, then killed himself in a backyard shed, police said.

Firefighters arrived about 2:30 a.m. at a house owned by George Springer in the 9200 block of Encino Avenue. Firefighter Yandell Bishop said that as he ran to the back of the house, he heard a gunshot, then felt a sharp pain in his stomach.

"I heard the shot distinctly, and felt the shot," Bishop, 42, said from his hospital bed. "It felt like a baseball bat hit me across the stomach."

Two other firefighters seated in the cab of their truck received minor injuries from flying glass when the driver's side window was shattered, authorities said.

Believing they were under attack, firefighters backed away from the house and called in water-dropping helicopters. The police bomb squad and SWAT team were also summoned.

Officers found Springer's body at about 7:30 a.m. in a shed behind the house. A shotgun, handgun and rifle were next to him.

The firefighter's injury was not life-threatening.

Police also suspect Springer was responsible for setting fire to a boarded-up house he also owned about a mile away in the 9200 block of Whitaker Avenue. That fire was reported about 1:40 a.m.

Family members told police Springer was separated from his wife and had been going through a "prolonged, adversarial divorce," a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said. A recent court ruling required Springer to sell the Encino Avenue property.

On Tuesday morning, neighbors were trying to determine what might have caused Springer to snap.

Some remembered him as a bad neighbor with a nasty temper. According to Whitaker Avenue resident Jack Clements, Springer once cut down a neighbor's picket fence with a chainsaw because he believed it encroached on his property.

Conditions at both of Springer's homes were a source of complaints from neighbors and city officials in recent years. In July 1999, the Building and Safety Department ordered him to clean up trash and debris on the Encino Avenue lot, a spokesman said. Springer complied, but a new order was issued within months for additional debris.

Springer failed to comply and the matter was referred to the city attorney's office for prosecution. Records showed Springer had failed to attend two administrative hearings on the matter last year.

"His place was always a pigsty," said Dan Foster, who lived directly behind Springer's Whitaker Avenue house. "He was the grumpy old man who made life miserable for everybody."

Others, however, remembered Springer as quiet but amiable. One neighbor said her children warmly referred to him as "the lonely man."