Campus, Long Beach, News

CSULB staff mourn death of co-worker following fatal car crash

Following the death of 60-year-old custodial services employee Rodger Lee Watkins on Feb. 20, Long Beach State staff community members continue to mourn the loss weeks after the downtown traffic collision.

Custodial services employee Lori Donaldson was a close work friend of Watkins. They would park their cars together on the far end of the Beach Print Shop parking lot everyday before work.

The night of the crash, Donaldson noticed Watkins’ usual parking spot was still empty by the time their midnight graveyard shift had started at Beach Building Services. She assumed he simply couldn’t make it in that night.

“I knew something felt off, but I just figured I’ll catch up with him tomorrow,” Donaldson said.

It wasn’t until after the end of her shift roughly around 8:30 a.m. that she was informed of Watkins’ death the night before.

“It’s such a tragedy that he’s gone,” Donaldson said. “I have met thousands and thousands of people in my life, and there is no one in this world that is anything like Rodger. He was that special.”

According to several staff members, Watkins had a memorable personality and had “the kind of smile that sticks with you.” His love for his family was apparent in conversations he would have with others as he would often update them on what went on in his grandchildren’s lives.

Vice President of Administration and Finance Scott Apel recalls his interactions with Watkins’ at staff events over the years.

“When I talk to employees, a lot of times its about work or what they’d like to see change in the organization, but not with Rodger. It was always about his family,” Apel said.

Custodial service employees work late at night to prepare classrooms and offices for operational services for the following morning. But regardless of the limited sleep Watkins would get before a staff event, Apel said he would always attend looking his best.

“Rodger would work all night and then he would come back and always be dressed in a suit and tie,” Apel said. “He always outdressed me. You know, I have to dress up for this job, but Rodger always put me to shame.”

BBS Lead Custodian Louis Mendoza worked closely with Watkins, oftentimes working graveyard shifts and overtime together. When they both worked the same events, Mendoza said he would often “bust out moves” whenever music played and Watkins would often show him his Michael Jackson impersonations.

“Even though he was a lot older than me, you’d be so surprised how much energy [he had],” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said custodial services at BBS held an early breakfast gathering for Watkins’ family and staff on March 6, celebrating Watkins’ 61st birthday.

“His wife and daughter came down and spent an hour [with us],” Mendoza said. “We shared moments with Rodger’s wife, and I talked about the time I spent with Rodger.”

Watkins, Donaldson and Mendoza became California State University Employees Union stewards at the Long Beach Chapter around the same time, attending rallies together and advocating for cost of living raises for staff. Donaldson said Watkins was instrumental in getting people involved.

“He’s my best friend at work,” Donaldson said. “If everyone who loved Rodger didn’t show up for work, there wouldn’t be anybody in the yard. That’s how loved he was.”

According to the LBPD Media Relations Detail, no new case details have been publicly announced regarding the identity of the driver or potential arrest charges since the the original press release was posted.

According to the memorial website his family created in his honor, Watkins leaves behind a wife, five adult children and four grandchildren.

Watkins’ memorial service was held on March 14. For information regarding his funeral services and internment, visit Watkins’ memorial website.

This story will be updated as more details of the investigation are provided.

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