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LAPD Honors Officers for Heroism

September 06, 2002|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the 43rd year, the Los Angeles Police Department awarded its Medals of Valor on Thursday, this time to six officers for heroic work performed in 2000 and 2001.

Luz Ruiz of Los Angeles and her father, Rafael Aparicio of Puebla, Mexico, hugged LAPD Officers Juan Gonzalez and Ray Olivas, who plunged into a vehicle fire Sept. 20, 2001, on the Golden State Freeway to rescue them from a burning van.

"We are very grateful," said Ruiz. "They acted very fast, and thanks to them, we are well today."

Actor and producer Edward James Olmos read the dramatic account of the rescue, and the applause was frequent and loud. The ceremony was attended by several hundred people, including political leaders and officers from every division of the LAPD.

Gonzalez and Olivas were driving on the freeway when an accident unfolded in front of them. After being struck by another vehicle, the van driven by Ruiz turned on its side and caught fire.

The officers ran to the scene, and with the help of an unidentified citizen with a fire extinguisher, were able to free Ruiz and her father, who were entangled with the van's steering column.

In a second incident, on Sept. 24, 2000, four K-9 officers stopped a man who shot his wife, and, while fleeing, shot several other people. The gunman ended the chase by killing himself.

Honors went to Sgt. Scott DeFoe and Officers Gina Holmstrom, Brian O'Hara and David Stambaugh. All four exchanged gunfire with the assailant while chasing him.

A retired police dog, Maxx, who helped in the chase, was given a certificate of recognition--and a bone--at the award luncheon, sponsored by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Wells Fargo.

The 10-year-old dog barked in apparent appreciation.

Without the dog, according to Olmos' account, the situation "would have evolved differently and much more dangerously."

Acting Police Chief Martin Pomeroy received a standing ovation when he was introduced. Pomeroy, brought out of retirement to replace former Chief Bernard C. Parks, said he will happily return to fly fishing at his home near Glacier National Park in Montana when a new police chief is named.

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