By Peter Hecht
A Placerville elementary school janitor today was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison for gunning down the school's beloved principal.
John Luebbers, 45, was convicted April 24 of first degree murder in the February 2, 2011 shooting of his 20-year friend and golfing partner, Louisiana Schnell School principal Sam LaCara, 50.
El Dorado County Superior Court Judge James R. Wagoner imposed the mandatory sentence of 25 years to life on the murder count, plus a 25-year sentencing enhancement for use of a firearm during the killing.
Trial testimony revealed that Luebbers, the school's lead custodian, became livid over interviews for a night janitor. Luebbers, who had been golfing with LaCara just days earlier, preferred one candidate and the principal and school district preferred another.
Luebbers was sent home by LaCara to cool off after he lit into the principal in a profanity-laced eruption. He returned to campus with a gun and fatally wounded LaCara in his office.
LaCara was known in the school community for his sense of humor, for hugging kids when they were dropped off at school and for packing index cards into the front pocket of his signature short-sleeve shirts to keep track of students' and parents' concerns. He died at Marshall Hospital in Placerville about an hour after the shooting.
More than 1,500 people turned out to pay tribute to the fallen principal in a memorial service after the shooting at Placerville's Green Valley Community Church. Children wearing yellow ribbons marked with his name, friends, colleagues and people who never knew him packed the church, three overflow rooms and an outdoor seating area.
LaCara was eulogized as a man "who led by example in investing his life in children."