“I think I am dead.”
Those were the last words a friend heard John Leehey say as he lay bleeding on a dirt path outside of Cook’s Corner in Trabuco Canyon, while bullets from a gunman described as a “crazy” ex-cop whizzed around him and two of his friends.
Leehey, 67-year-old urban planner and landscape architect from Irvine, along with Tonya Clark, 49, of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Glen Sprowl Jr., 53, of Stanton, were killed in the shooting rampage Wednesday at the popular biker bar during its $8 Spaghetti Night.
Retired Ventura Police Sgt. John Patrick Snowling, 59, who was in the middle of a divorce, entered Cook’s Corner with a pair of legally registered handguns, walked up to his wife Marie silently, and shot her in the jaw, authorities said. Somehow, she survived.
But the shooting continued.
For more news, see: Cook’s Corner mass shooting a horrifically common display of domestic violence
James O’Malley, a real estate consultant who lives a couple of miles from Cook’s Corner, said Friday he went to the biker bar with Leehey to grab a cheap spaghetti dinner, drink a few beers, and listen to live music.
Leehey’s passions included playing guitar and harmonica, the blues, golf, and poker with a “little whisky in between,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley and Leehey arrived at Cook’s Corner around 6 p.m. and were joined by friend Eleni Christianson, a real estate land broker. The trio settled in at an outdoor picnic table at the back corner of the establishment. About 20 people sat nearby
The conversation was light and upbeat. Leehey talked about his family and poker before excusing himself to get some spaghetti and the first round of beers, O’Malley said. “The evening was beautiful and everything was great,” he recalled.
Around 7 p.m. everything changed.
Bullets began peppering the ground near where Leehey, O’Malley and Christianson were seated.
The shots seemed to be indiscriminate and fired from a nearby parking lot on the side of Cook’s Corner, O’Malley said. “There was no warning,” he added. “Just a hail of gunfire. We stood up and began looking at how to make our next move. We didn’t know where the gunman might be.”
Suddenly, a pregnant Cook Corner waitress, who begged for her life and was spared from Snowling, began walking down a sloped path leading from the parking lot to the outdoor dining area. Then there were more gunshots.
“Right away we heard gunshots pinging against the concrete building,” O’Malley said. “We fled and ran for our lives.”
O’Malley took only about five steps when he noticed that Leehey had fallen to the ground. “I thought he had tripped but I didn’t see his hands cushion him,” he said. “Then I saw blood and he wasn’t moving. He was flat on his face.”
Christianson attempted to comfort Leehey, and, O’Malley said, later conveyed his last words.
O’Malley said he also spotted a man who is a chef at Cook’s Corner lying near Leehey; the chef had been shot in the left forearm, exposing the bone.
O’Malley said he decided to run to the front of Cook’s Corner, believing that the building would provide him protection away from the outdoor seating area where Snowling was still shooting.
Inside, it was deadly silent, with patrons crouching behind the bar. O’Malley made his way to the kitchen, where he instinctively grabbed a large frying pan for protection.
O’Malley never saw Snowling but estimated he fired dozens of shots, taking time to reload in what seemed like random target practice.
A convoy of law officers quickly arrived in what O’Malley described as the “cavalry,” looking like “a Christmas parade on steroids.” Suddenly there was more gunfire in what sounded like like a shootout between the officers and Snowling.
O’Malley said he knew it was safe to leave the kitchen when deputies walked into the bar.
“I have never had gunshots fired with the intent to kill me,” he said. “I honestly thought my life was over.”
O’Malley said he will treasure his friendship with Leehey, whom he described as good-natured and kind.
“He never spoke ill of anyone,” he said.
Leehey, who was married with adult sons, was a well-known landscape architect with more than 35 years of experience. He started his own consulting firm in October 2022 after working five years as Director of Planning with Costa Mesa-based JZMK Partners, said Eric Zuziak, president of the company. There Leehey designed multiple communities in Dubai, Egypt, and California and a land plan for a major resort in Egypt.
“John was very passionate in creating wonderful communities,” Zuziak said “He believed in his vision … and would passionately promote those concepts.”
Sprowl and Shawn Ambrose have had many conversations during their long motorcycle road trips about what they would do if they encountered an active shooter.
“Knowing Glen, he probably ran at him to grab him,” Ambrose said. “We talked about those scenarios. You don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”
After Snowling shot his estranged wife and others inside Cook’s Corner, he went outside and retrieved a shotgun and third handgun from his truck, witnesses said. Ambrose said he was told by Sprowl’s friend, who was there, that Sprowl followed Snowling outside, telling patrons to go back inside and lock the door behind them.
“I’m going to take care of this,” he told the women.
Sprowl was shot as he approached Snowling, officials have said.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Ambrose said. “That bought a little time.”
Sprowl had a tough exterior but a big heart, the type of friend who would drop everything to help someone in need, said Ambrose, who runs a surf and screenprinting shop in Oceanside.
The two had been friends for 30 years and had been on many long motorcycle road trips together, with another one planned in just a few weeks.
Sprowl was the father of three children, one 19 and a younger son and daughter who live in Arizona. He had plans to move there to be closer to them and start a motorcycle parts company, Ambrose said.
Sprowl worked for a friend’s environmental recycling company. He called himself a “contraptionist,” someone who could build or make anything, Ambrose said.
Ambrose remembers when his dog nearly died a few years ago and friends gathered to hold a fundraiser to help with surgery costs.
“He said ‘how can I help,’ no questions asked,” Ambrose recalled of Sprowl.
Sprowl was an “interesting character,” who had various jobs through the years as a bouncer or traveling with bands, Ambrose said.
Though he was a “big tough biker guy” with tattoos and a long beard, they also liked to dress in polo shirts and hit the golf courses, Ambrose said. Sprowl also occasionally liked to surf.
But the best times together were riding Harleys on long stretches of road, soaking in the sights.“It’s like a vacation, a road trip, but you’re in the scenery,” Ambrose said. “We had a lot of plans ahead of us. You become brothers.”
Sprowl was “a bit of a rascal but he grew up well,” said Bob Herrick, his uncle.
He recalled how Sprowl had once helped family members move.
“He could pick up a piano by himself; he was a forklift,” Herrick said.
“He taught me to ride a bike and took me trick-or-treating around the neighborhood,” Chris Herrick, 39, said of his cousin. “He was very protective and heroic; he helped shape me as a person and the music I liked.”
While Herrick said he lost touch with Sprowl after Sprowl’s mother died, he had just been thinking of him in recent days because he still had the mother’s ashes and wanted to give them to Sprowl.
“I had hoped he was living a good life that would honor his family,” Chris Herrick said.
Now, he said, Friday, he has no doubt that Sprowl did just that.
Even as a younger man, Chris Herrick said, Sprowl would step into harm’s way to protect someone. Once, in Westminster, Sprowl stopped a neighbor from harassing Herrick’s mother just by standing there in his 6-foot-4-tall frame.
Another time, in Santa Ana, he was at a Jack-in-the-Box and was hit by a bullet during a drive-by shooting.
“It could have been lethal,” Chris Herrick said. “But he had a purpose in the world. Maybe he was meant to sacrifice himself for others.”
Clark was remembered Friday as a devoted single mother to her 13-year-old son, a woman who loved live music and Red Bull with vodka.
Her friend, real estate agent Laura England, said Clark could typically be found watching local concerts at parks, breweries and taverns.
Her favorite song was always the one that she was dancing to.
“Wherever there was music, you would find her,” England said. “She was very giving and kind, always lit up a room, always happy-go-lucky … she had a positive energy about her.
Clark, who was currently living with a roommate in Rancho Santa Margarita, happened to be sitting near Marie Snowling, the shooter’s main target, that night.
When the shots rang out, Clark was celebrating her 49th birthday.
A GoFundMe page set up for her family said she was killed before friends could surprise her with a cake.
“A horrific and completely devastating act,” wrote Jen Hartry, whose brother, Brian Stoner, was Clark’s boyfriend.
Hartry said Clark was set to start a new job the following day.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)