Sheriff’s deputies in West Hollywood are well known for enforcing laws, arresting people and keeping the peace. But sometimes, those deputies also save lives. Literally.
That’s what happened with WeHo Deputy Leobardo Trujillo who performed CPR and saved the life of a man in cardiac arrest. Trujillo, who has been at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station for 11 years, was honored in June for his heroism with a prestigious Life Saving Award given by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Trujillo’s heroism occurred on January 20, 2016 when residents in the 8400 block of De Longpre Avenue, near Flores Street, reported a man collapsed on the sidewalk. Trujillo was nearby in his squad car at Santa Monica Boulevard near Sweetzer Avenue when he heard the call and rushed to the scene.
There, he found a man in his late 30s lying face down with no pulse. The man was not breathing and was turning blue from lack of oxygen.
“I’ve seen dead people before, and he was dead,” recalls the 46-year-old Trujillo. “I saw his youth and started CPR. I got on the radio and said, ‘Hey, You’ve got to get here now. Code Three. This guy’s not breathing.’ I could hear the ambulances in the distance as I did CPR. It felt like forever. They said it was three or four minutes.”
When paramedics arrived, Trujillo continued doing chest compressions until the moment they were ready to use a defibrillator to revive the man. It took three jolts to get his heart beating again.
“He was still unconscious, but they put him on the gurney and you saw his blood flow start to come back to his body. He started getting his color back,” Trujillo remembers.
Paramedics rushed the man to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center while Trujillo went to his next assignment. Several days later, he got a telephone call at the station from the man’s father, asking to meet him.
Trujillo did not know whether the man was alive or dead when he arrived at Cedars but greeted the father, who grabbed him, hugged him and started crying.
Trujillo inquired how the man was and the father told him he was alive and going to live.
“The father said, ‘You saved my son’s life,’” Trujillo recalls, tears coming to his eyes as he recounts the story. “A moment later, the brother hugged me and started crying too.”
The Man He Saved
Darin Friedman, a partner at Management 360, a 15-year-old talent agency handling actors, directors and writers, was the man who had collapsed on the sidewalk. Friedman has no recollection of the incident. His memory of that day and the preceding day is gone. Everything he knows of that day is what he has been able to piece together from what he has been told.
Friedman lives in the Hollywood Hills, above Fairfax Avenue. He goes jogging five times a week but generally runs in the hills. Ironically, Friedman says he had never gone jogging in the Fountain-Sweetzer-De Longpre Avenue area before that day.
“I don’t know what made me take that route,” mused Friedman, who was 39 at the time of the incident. “I think it had been raining that day, and I guess I thought it would be safer to be in the flats than in the hills. I’m assuming that was the logic, and I went on this route that took me down there. If I had been almost anywhere else, I would have been done. The chances of surviving this are 99% against.”
Friedman suffered “spontaneous cardiac arrest.” Basically, the wall of his artery suddenly collapsed, blocking blood flow to the heart. He’s a healthy man with no family history of heart problems, but spontaneous cardiac arrest can happen to the healthiest of people and doesn’t offer any advance warning signs. A spontaneous cardiac arrest is also rare, happening to about one in one million people. Few live to talk about it.
“It could have happened in my house or my car,” says Friedman. “It just happened in a place that put me in a spot to have a hero like him to even have a shot of saving me. So much luck had to happen.”
Doctors speculate that Trujillo’s aggressive CPR dislodged the blockage in Friedman’s heart, which then allowed paramedics to restart his heart. Without the CPR, Friedman’s chance of being revived by the defibrillator would have been minuscule.
At Cedars, Friedman’s father took Trujillo in to meet his son, who had been in a coma for four days. Friedman told Trujillo he felt fine, except his chest hurt and he was having some difficulty breathing. Trujillo wasn’t surprised, speculating that he had broken some of Friedman’s while doing CPR.
“We have a saying in my line of work, ‘You can’t make them deader,’” says Trujillo. “I was pushing pretty hard on his chest. I was doing everything I could.”
Since then, Trujillo and Friedman have become friends, texting or emailing often, sharing meals occasionally. The two made a point of talking on the one-year anniversary of the incident. Trujillo called it Friedman’s “new birthday.”
“That day is way more important to me now than my birthday,” Friedman says. “I really believe that, and we treat it like that.”
Friedman cannot praise Trujillo enough. He and his wife now consider Trujillo part of their family.
“He truly is a hero and a lifesaver in every sense of the word,” says Friedman. “It’s not just being there in the right place at the right time. It’s knowing what to do and, in his case, going the extra mile to put in the effort to physically do what he needed to do. Literally, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. Period. Full stop.”
Receiving the Award
Friedman made a point of being at the Life Saving Award ceremony in June where Trujillo was honored, buying a table for the event.
“It was a packed room, full of his peers and the DA and Sheriff,” says Friedman. “The entire room gave him a standing ovation. The entire room gave him this hero’s ovation, which he certainly deserved.”
Trujillo was flattered to receive the award, but also somewhat self-conscious about it, explaining that he was just doing his job.
“It’s a great honor, but I feel embarrassed,” Trujillo says. “I’m not used to being put in the limelight of things. I’m just a deputy doing everything that my partners are doing.”
Despite Trujillo’s modesty, West Hollywood Station Captain Sergio Aloma was proud to see his deputy honored.
“It’s always extremely rewarding when our deputies can play a role in saving a human life,” Aloma told WEHOville. “We train for incidents like this, but hope that we never have to use those skills. Although we do not do it for the recognition, it’s nice nevertheless to see our people get recognized for the great work they do every day.”
Becoming a Deputy
Trujillo grew up in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, an area overrun with gangs when he was a teenager in the 1980s. The oldest of three children, he avoided getting into any of those gangs. He was an altar boy and a bit of a “nerd,” as he described himself. He had fantasies of becoming an aeronautical engineer, dreaming of designing airplanes because flight fascinated him.
However, fate stepped in one day at age 16 when he skipped school with his cousin. Police picked him up, took him to the station and telephoned his parents.
“I was so fascinated with the patrol car, their uniforms, their patrol station,” recalls Trujillo who now lives in La Crescenta. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ It opened my eyes. I think it planted a seed. I asked, ‘What do I need to do to become a police officer?’ They said, ‘You’ve got to stay in school, fly straight and stay out of trouble. And when you graduate, you can apply, but you’ve got to stay in school.’”
After graduation, Trujillo worked as a private security guard for a few years. In the mid-1990s, he applied to the sheriff’s department and was about to start the sheriff’s academy when a hiring freeze was issued. Instead, Trujillo became a sheriff’s security officer, which is a sworn public officer (unlike deputies who are sworn law enforcement officers) who handles non-emergency situations. During part of his time as a security officer, he was stationed in West Hollywood and fell in love with the city.
Once the hiring freeze was lifted, he graduated from the sheriff’s academy in December 2000. After the mandatory stint in the jails, followed by time at the courts and transit center, he returned to West Hollywood in July 2006.
“I enjoy working in the city. Where else can I work in such a great city? It’s fantastic. I have fun here,” he says. “You get to serve people, which is what I love to do, serve the community. I can’t believe I get paid what I get paid and enjoy my work. It’s not really a job. When you do something you love, it’s not a job.”
WeHo station captain Aloma describes Trujillo as a “quiet professional.”
“He’s not someone who boasts about his accomplishments,” said Aloma. “He comes to work every day ready to do his job and is always prepared. He’s very friendly and outgoing with his fellow deputies. He has been at WeHo Sheriff’s Station for some time which is indicative of his commitment to the community. He truly enjoys working here.”
Trujillo’s Advice to WeHo Residents?
“I’m here to help,” he says. “Wave at us every now and then and say hello. It means a lot. We love this community. The reason why we’re here in West Hollywood, we want to help everybody that we can. We enjoy talking to people. I do. It makes my day go by and it puts me into contact with the community that I serve. I like to get to know people that live in my city that I patrol. It’s nice to get a wave from people I recognize.”