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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Girl Who Saved Tot in Pool Joins Other Medal Winners

April 21, 2001|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not false modesty--Brittany DeMattia genuinely doesn't get it.

All she did, she insists, was swim over and pull a struggling 2-year-old girl from a Santa Paula swimming pool. Then she hoisted the gasping toddler to the side and got help.

Now the Oxnard 10-year-old is this year's youngest winner of the Medal of Merit for saving the life of her cousin, Marisa Mann of Ventura.

"It shouldn't get so much attention," Brittany said. "Well, maybe a little bit."

The 17 awards will be handed out tonight by the Peace Officers Assn. of Ventura County at the Marriott Hotel in Oxnard. The group has representatives from all law enforcement agencies in the county.

Law enforcement officers will be honored along with civilians for bravery or exemplary service beyond the call of duty.

"Too many young people are brought up to say 'It's not my business,' " said Sgt. Matt Findlay, president of the officers' organization and a Ventura County sheriff's deputy. "And she said, 'It is my business.' "

Brittany, an avid swimmer, was alone in a pool during a July 4 party last year while the adults were inside.

"It was about 7 p.m. and there were about 25 of us," recalled Brittany's mother, Debbie DeMattia. "My daughter, who is a fish, was still in the water. Marisa was at her mom's side but she managed to disappear. Someone left the sliding glass door open and she escaped."

Brittany was in the deep end when she saw Marisa toddling along the edge of the pool. Brittany then told Marisa to stay away from the water.

But the fully clothed Marisa jumped in and began sinking to the bottom.

Said Brittany: "She went underwater so I picked her up."

She pulled the girl to the shallow end and propped her up halfway out of the water.

"If no one was in the pool she would have died," Brittany said.

The adults heard Marisa scream and ran outside. When they saw what Brittany had done, they broke into spontaneous applause.

"My daughter is very reserved," said Brittany's mother, a detective with the county Sheriff's Department. "She still doesn't understand what the big deal is."

Brian DeMattia, a California Highway Patrol officer in Ventura, said he made sure both his daughters learned to swim early.

As a boy, Brian DeMattia and his baby-sitter's 5-year-old daughter were playing on the rocks at a Monterey beach.

"A big wave came in and took the baby-sitter's daughter and pulled her out to sea," DeMattia said. "A fisherman picked her up in his net the next day--dead."

So when Brittany saved Marisa, her father wanted to mark the event. He bought her a gold trophy engraved "My Little Hero" and "Brittany 2000."

Meanwhile, Marisa has taken swimming lessons and Brittany, a fourth-grader at Sacred Heart School in Ventura, is preparing herself for the awards ceremony.

"I have stage fright,' she said. "I find it nerve-racking."

The other Ventura County civilian winners of the Medal of Merit are Gloria Bender, Mike Malloy, Mark McCormack, Brittany Nelson, Joana Raney and Daniel Weist.

The law enforcement winners of the Medal of Merit are John Samarin and John Morton of the Simi Valley Police Department, Lt. Larry Hawkins of the Navy police, Nelson Latimer and Joe Tinoco of the Oxnard Police Department, Gary Aviesse and Randy Downard of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, Mark Cleavenger of the Ventura Police Department and Kevin Craig and Christina Roughton of the CHP.

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