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Bravery earns heroes honor

first_imgThe heroic acts honored Thursday date from as long ago as 61 years. There was Officer Walter Kesterson, who shot a pair of cop killers in 1946, killing both with his pistol as he succumbed to a gunshot wound. Officers Rudy Barragan and Marco Briones, who yanked an unconscious driver from his wrecked Buick mere seconds before it burst into flames in the Newton Area in May2006. Officer John Porras, who was training rookie James Tuck in Hollenbeck when they traded shots with an assault rifle-toting thug. Officer Joe Meyer, who saved the life of Officer Kristina Ripatti by killing the armed robber who shot her, then applying first aid to keep her from bleeding to death. And the 13 from the retirement home explosion – Officers Stephen Diaz, Guy Dobine and Jude Washington, Sgts. Albert Gavin and Miguel Lopez, Detectives Alberto Junco and Sandy Kim, now with the Santa Ana Police Department, Deputy Sheriff Gerald Jackson and retired Officer Kenyard Bilal. Before they took the stage to receive their medals, they stood to the side of the expansive Hollywood & Highland ballroom. Guns in their holsters, uniforms freshly pressed, boots shined, they shifted uncomfortably as the master of ceremonies, mayor, City Council president, a police commissioner and the chief saluted them as “the best of the best.” None was seeking the blue-and-white ribbon when they ran into the smoke on that night, 11 years ago. All they knew was, the retirement home was on fire, and there were seniors trapped inside. After Wenninger and Castellanos ran out from their first incursion, the 11 cops who had come to their aid busted back into the building. Kicking down doors, crawling on hands and knees, they went in again and again – even after the sprinklers came on and the Fire Department arrived. Perez and Pursel kept close together – Perez had promised his partner’s wife that he would bring him home safely. They dragged out residents unwilling to leave their belongings. They rolled out wheelchairs and carried the feeble down staircases. By night’s end, several of the cops had choked down enough smoke and carbon monoxide to warrant a hospital visit. But not before they had saved 80 elderly residents – and lost none. “This is officers doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Perez, who’s now 42 and a police officer in Burbank, which is closer to his home. “No one questioned it. No one said, `Wait for someone else.’ They just went in.” Tuck, who nearly lost his hand during the brave assault that earned him his medal, downplayed the praise heaped on the cops who stood at sharp attention on the ballroom’s stage. “We signed up to work and be police officers, not to collect medals,” he said. “We do it because it’s our job.” [email protected] (818) 713-3738160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Perez and Pursel dropped their forks and ran for the car. “Once you make the decision, you make the decision,” Perez said Thursday. “You don’t think about it. You don’t wonder, `Did I make a mistake?’ You just do it.” The events of that night made those four cops and nine others heroes in the eyes of their peers. On Thursday, the LAPD made it official, with Chief William Bratton hanging the Medal of Valor around their necks. Along with six others who risked their lives in other incidents in the line of duty, the officers who waded into the smoke and chaos to save residents of the burning retirement home were awarded the department’s most prestigious accolade. After last week’s response to the immigration-rights rally in MacArthur Park, which led to the reassignment of senior officers and widespread criticism of police tactics, the LAPD was relieved to have something positive to discuss. “In moments of great crisis, they performed in a way that was truly exemplary,” Bratton said. “A lot is expected of officers, but until that moment of challenge, they always wonder, `How will I perform?’ These officers, in response to extreme challenges, rose above and beyond.” The night he became a hero, Officer Arturo Perez was eating fish. He was a 31-year-old patrolman on the evening of June21,1996, three years out of the Los Angeles Police Department Academy. He and his partner, Officer Mark Pursel, were settling into an uneventful shift at the Wilshire Division. They had just broadcast Code7, putting them on break as they sat down for a meal about 9p.m. As they dug in, the radio crackled. Officers Jeffrey Wenninger and Jose Castellanos saw a building near Beverly Boulevard and Croft Avenue explode. They were going in and needed help. last_img

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