Officers Honored For Saving Boy’s Life

By Pamela Bond

Waco Tribune-Herald

July 27, 2007

When Willie Culberson hugged Waco police officers Joe Ozuna and Jeremy Pina at the Waco Police Department on Thursday, her eyes were misty as she quietly said “Thank you.” The gentle smile on her face showed that the tears in her eyes were from joy.

Ozuna and Pina were given lifesaving awards Thursday in the office of Police Chief Alberto Melis for rescuing Culberson’s 14-year-old grandson.

“Very few things are so worthwhile as this,” Melis said. “We all say that we want to become police officers to help people, but you will always remember this. You can be jumping from building to building and chasing bad guys every day, but this is more worthwhile. It certainly stands out.”

A civilian, Jesseana Rice, also earned a lifesaving award for the rescue, although she was not present to accept it.

“It was through their efforts that (the teen) was able to be saved and is doing very well,” said Sgt. Mark Mitzel, who presented the award. He added, “We are very proud of their accomplishments.”

On June 12, Culberson’s grandson asked to go swimming with some friends. Culberson lives in the Waco area, and at the time, her grandson and his mother were living with her.

“I told him not to go, but he snuck out with some friends,” Culberson said. “A friend of theirs at the apartment complex beeped them in. I guess I wasn’t being a very good grandma.”

At the University Club Apartments on North Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the young man was swimming in the apartment pool when he began to drown.

Pina was patrolling nearby and arrived on the scene only a minute after he heard the call.

“You try to hurry up a bit more with children,” Pina said. “There’s more anxiety. And of course, we both have children so we know that’s somebody’s child that needs help.”

A grim outlook

When he arrived, the young man was not breathing and he did not have a pulse. Pina began giving CPR.

“It’s just automatic,” Pina said. “They had just pulled him out of the water, so I immediately went to checking his breathing and he didn’t have a pulse or anything.”

Ozuna arrived shortly after Pina and continued CPR on the young man.

“I remember thinking, ‘where’s the paramedic?’ because it seemed like it was taking forever, but it wasn’t, because Ozuna said he was coming and the paramedics were right behind him,” Pina said. “He was just a few seconds away. But it felt like forever that I was trying to get his heart and breathing restored. I remember how exhausted I felt just from that short time.”

Rice, who was at the pool during the incident, stepped in to help the officers revive the unconscious boy with CPR.

“I wish Ms. Rice could have been here,” Ozuna said. “This lady took it upon herself to jump in and help him. There were about seven or eight adults out there just watching while this kid was still in the water. She didn’t ask ‘Am I going to get in trouble? Am I going to get sued?’ She just jumped right in and said ‘I’m CPR-certified, what can I do?’ And that says a lot about her.”

Back to normal life

The young man spent several days recovering in the hospital and now is living with his mother in Atlanta.

“In fact, when we called to check on him a few days ago, his grandfather said he was out playing baseball,” Melis said. “We hope that because of what these officers did he can go on to contribute great things to our society.”

Both officers humbly accepted their awards and said it was just a part of the job.

“We didn’t do anything any other officer would not have done,” Pina said. “I don’t look it as yeah, we saved somebody’s life. It’s just all in a day’s work.”

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