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Postal Carrier Who Saved Life Is Honored

September 22, 2000|GRACE E. JANG

Postal carrier Gerard Apusen knows everyone on his route. He's delivered their mail for more than 10 years and considers many residents his friends.

Earlier this summer when letters began accumulating in the mailbox of the corner house on Amboy Avenue, he grew concerned.

Apusen knew the resident, Mary Yamagata, was a senior citizen who lived alone. Her husband had passed away three years ago.

"The mail wasn't checked for two days," Apusen, 35, said. "The air conditioning was on, but the mail was piling up."

On the third day, he began investigating. He knocked on Yamagata's door several times, but got no response. He went around to the kitchen and found her lying in a pool of blood, barely conscious, and called for an ambulance.

"The paramedics said she was lucky," he said. "She almost died."

Apusen saved Yamagata's life, said Jon Eshbach, postmaster of the Van Nuys district.

"It wasn't part of the job description," said Eshbach at a surprise awards ceremony held Thursday at the Sun Valley post office, where Apusen is based. "What you did was exemplary."

Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla and a representative of Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar) presented special recognition awards to a bewildered Apusen, who said the ceremony was unexpected.

"We have many challenges in the east San Fernando Valley, especially social challenges," Padilla said. "It's nice to recognize what's positive. You made the extra effort--simple as it may be, it means a lot."

Eshbach also presented Apusen with a $500 bonus--a gesture loudly applauded by more than 25 of Apusen's assembled fellow carriers, whose salaries are in the upper $30,000 range.

Yamagata, who is recovering at a Riverside nursing home, could not attend the ceremony, officials said.

Ellie Lara, Yamagata's concerned neighbor, said accolades to Apusen are long overdue. "I've been telling the post office for months that they should recognize him," Lara said. "I'm so glad they finally did."

Known to his patrons simply as "Gerry," the West Covina resident is well-liked and dependable, Lara said.

"He's very good," she said. "I always know when Gerry's off, because I get someone else's mail."

It's not every day that a postal carrier saves someone's life, but Apusen is modest about his gallantry. The father of two doesn't see himself as a hero.

"I just did what anyone else in this job would have done," he said, stuffing mail into his bag in preparation for the workday. "I'm just glad Mary's OK."

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