Erwin Lima has worked weekends detailing motorcycles at Cook’s Corner since 2007.
The longtime establishment, which sits at the juncture of El Toro, Santiago Canyon and Live Oak Canyon roads near O’Neill Regional Park, is known as a biker bar as well as a family-friendly spot where patrons often bring their children for an inexpensive weeknight dinner.
On Thursday morning, Lima stood outside police tape blocking the two-lane road that leads to the popular roadside spot, concern etched on his face. He had driven to the bar hoping to learn anything he could about the condition of his coworkers and friends.
“I couldn’t believe it when I started getting calls,” he said. He turned on the TV on Wednesday night to news of a mass shooting at Cook’s Corner in which four people were killed, including the gunman, and six others were injured.
“My body just shut down,” said Lima, 54.
He later learned that a bullet had grazed the arm of his friend Thomas, who works in the bar’s kitchen.
Orange County authorities identified the gunman as John Snowling, a retired sergeant from the Ventura Police Department. Snowling was targeting his estranged wife in the shooting, who was reportedly a regular at the bar, according to two law enforcement sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Snowling’s estranged wife, Marie Snowling, survived the shooting and is hospitalized. It was unclear whether Snowling followed her to the bar before opening fire on the crowd, they said.
Lima said Marie Snowling frequented the bar most weekends, enjoying its live music offerings. Sometimes it would get so crowded that she’d bring her own chair so she’d have somewhere to sit, he said.
Betty Fruichantie posted on Facebook that she was sharing a table with her friend Marie before the shooting. She said the gunman fired four to six shots straight at her, although she was not injured. But her friend was struck by gunfire, she said.
“He shot her in the face,” she wrote. “They transported her to the ER.”
In a video Fruichantie posted from outside the bar immediately after the shooting, first responders can be seen tending to victims and placing them on gurneys. In one frame, the video pans to a woman being wheeled away on a stretcher.
“Oh, my God, Marie,” the person shooting the video can be heard saying.
Gus Gunderman had stopped by Cook’s Corner on Wednesday evening for a bite to eat and had left moments before the shooting started. The bar was filled with patrons sipping beers, he said, and a band was onstage prepping for a set. On the patio, families sat devouring large plates of pasta and salad during the eatery’s $8 Spaghetti Night.
Gunderman, 60, ordered a burger and a Coke, not remembering it was all-you-can-eat spaghetti night. Looking back, he’s grateful for that decision.
“Had I ordered spaghetti, I would have gotten another plate or more salad — and then I would have been in the thick of it.”
“It’s a tragedy,” said Gunderman, a Tustin resident, who noted he’s never once felt unsafe there.
While Cook’s Corner is a popular haunt for local riders who want to avoid freeway congestion and enjoy the winding route through the hills to get there, it’s also a beloved dining spot.
“I’ve never even seen a fight there. This could have happened anywhere,” he said. “It has nothing to do with motorcycles or motorcycle culture.”