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13 of LAPD's Bravest Get Medals for Valor

`These people really are heroes,' Villaraigosa says of those who risked their own lives to save others in shootouts, fires and a hostage crisis.

September 07, 2006|J. Michael Kennedy | Times Staff Writer

The widow walked across the stage and the officer reached for his medal and placed it gently around her neck.

He was a big, burly man, a detective who had just received the Medal of Valor at a ceremony Wednesday honoring 13 members of the Los Angeles Police Department who had distinguished themselves in the line of duty over the last two years.

She was the widow of Richard Lizarraga, an officer who lay dying of gunshot wounds when Det. Richard Record dragged him from the line of fire on a winter day in 2004.

"He's the one who put his life in danger to save him," said Joyce Lizarraga, who until that moment had never met the man who had tried to rescue her husband. "I'm forever grateful for that."

The detective said he had taken the medal from his neck on impulse, one that brought a room full of cops to their feet.

"It just happened when she came up to give me a hug," Record said. "He's the one who deserved it."

In a ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the police and many of the city's dignitaries gathered to celebrate bravery of all kinds. The events that earned the officers a place onstage included shootouts, building fires and holding on for dear life when a suicidal woman tried to jump to her death.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa described them as "unsung men and women who put their lives on the line."

"Don't be fooled; these people really are heroes," he said. "These people have done what most of us are unable to do. They go in while the rest of us are coming out."

And John Mack, president of the Board of Police Commissioners, called them "our superstars, our hall of famers."

But mostly they looked like everyday officers, some with bellies sagging over their service belts, others with shaved heads that gave them a menacing look. Over the last two years, they had found themselves in situations in which their lives and those of their colleagues were on the line.

There were Christopher Vasquez and Carlos Figueroa, who rescued a 92-year-old woman from her burning home. There were the five officers who worked to save the lives of more than 50 people trapped in a burning two-story building on North Vendome Street: Carlos Ocegueda, Osvaldo Delgadillo, Ralph Camarillo, Laurissa Hulsebus and Abel Munoz.

Record, the detective, was singled out for trying to rescue Lizarraga, who had been going about his normal police business when he was shot twice by a man in an incident that began as a domestic dispute.

Officers Matthew Cundiff and Mario Cardona, assigned to the 77th Street Area Gang Enforcement Detail, responded to a rave party only to find themselves involved in a shootout with a man who had already shot at two people. Cardona was shot in the stomach before the gunman could be overpowered.

And then there were Officers Mark Mireles and Edwin Marron, who put their own lives at risk by trying to keep a woman from committing suicide. She had almost succeeded in taking the two officers with her when a pair of Los Angeles firefighters showed up on the balcony and pulled them all to safety.

The firefighters, Paul Schori and Fernando Vasquez, both received commendations Wednesday for their help in rescuing the two officers along with the suicidal woman.

Finally, there was Sgt. Hector Feliciano, a Rampart-area bicycle supervisor who happened to be on hand when a gunman took over the Mexican Consulate and took a pregnant employee hostage. After repeatedly ordering the man to drop his weapon, Feliciano shot and killed him.

On Wednesday, the woman who was held hostage, Dunia Gonzalez-Delgado, also came to the awards ceremony, where she met Feliciano for the first time.

Gonzalez-Delgado, who said she was still undergoing therapy in the aftermath of the 2004 ordeal, thanked those who helped free her that day, particularly Feliciano. She said she miscarried soon after the hostage incident, but had always wanted to thank Feliciano for rescuing her.

"I wanted to thank and meet Sgt. Hector Feliciano," she said, looking toward the sergeant. "I think on that day God sent me two angels, one from heaven and one from Earth. The one from heaven was my baby, who shortly went back to heaven. The other, from Earth, was you."

After the ceremony, Feliciano and the other award recipients gathered outside the ballroom. He said he had heard through the grapevine that Gonzalez-Delgado had lost her baby. He also said he was moved by her brief speech.

"It was very touching," he said. "I've never been called an angel. I've been called worse, but not an angel."

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