These local heroes saw a wrong and tried to right it

The L.A. County district attorney's office honors brave citizens four times a year

What would you do if you saw a stranger in peril? Would you risk your own life to help or would you go about your day?

Samuel Gibson was in the Florence neighborhood helping his mother-in-law move when his daughter came to him and said she heard somebody screaming.

Outside in the dark, he came upon a young man and a young woman. She was crying out, "Help me! He's cutting me!"

Gibson told the man to let her go. He said Gibson should mind his own business and leave or he'd cut him too.

But Gibson stood his ground until the attacker backed off. Gibson cradled the bleeding young woman, stabbed six times, and carried her to safety.

Only later did he learn that she was a teenager, that her attacker who'd slashed her face, chest and arms — and who is now serving a life sentence — was an ex-boyfriend who'd beaten her up and threatened to kill her before.

At lunchtime Wednesday, Gibson put on a crisp red shirt and a tie. His wife, Lacresha Wilson, wore a red dress. They headed to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Westchester, with his sister, his niece and his mother, who brought the four children she was tending at her day-care center.

It was a big moment for Gibson, 30, who hopes one day to start his own maintenance business. He was about to receive a Courageous Citizen Award from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

"Believe it or not, I'm feeling shy and nervous," he said. "I still don't know how I feel about this."

Never, he said, on the night of March 12, 2009, had he thought about his own safety — even though in 2000, a gang member had shot and killed his brother.

"To me, it feels like I didn't really do anything. You see somebody in need, you help them," Gibson said.

The D.A.'s office honors brave citizens four times a year. They are given gilded proclamations and pins that look like medals and that, in big gold letters, say COURAGE.

Wednesday's luncheon, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Westchester, was about Gibson and four others. Two Malibu men had aided a desperate teenager abducted and sexually assaulted in her car. Two women took action in South Los Angeles when they saw a man spike a pit bull puppy to the sidewalk like a football and drag the dog prone on the pavement, leaving a bloody trail.

None of those honored appeared particularly comfortable with the spotlight. They did what they did, they said, because how could they not?

If only everyone felt the same way, said the deputy district attorneys who stood up to laud them. When detectives showed up later in Florence and neighbors learned why they were there, more than a few said, oh yeah, they remembered that night, they'd heard the screams.

At their table in the hotel banquet hall, Michael Miller, 67, and Joseph Evans, 53, were joined by the mother of the young woman whose life they'd helped save. She asked not to be identified to protect the identity of her daughter, who was 17 and driving to school June 12, 2012, when a man jumped into her car, forced her into the back seat and drove her around Malibu for several hours, sexually assaulting her along the way.

Eventually, he pulled into a gas station to refuel. That's when Miller saw the crying girl in the car, moving her lips as if trying to ask for help. Miller confronted the man, who ignored him. He then tried to block the car with his body. But the driver reversed and sped out of the station.

Standing at a different bank of gas pumps, Evans watched and tried to remember details about the car. Both men independently called 911. Evans tried to follow the car, lost it, found it again and kept close as he waited for authorities to arrive.

"There's no words, there's nothing that I can do that would adequately express how important their actions were," said the victim's mother. "My daughter had two people that she met eyes with and they just ignored her, but these two guys got involved. And if not for those two men, she'd be dead no question, no question."

Now, she said, her daughter, who is "off-the-charts brilliant," is a junior in college, studying electrical engineering and hoping to spend spring semester in China. Her attacker is in state prison, serving a sentence of 27 years to life.

"It's a great feeling to be a part of something that turned out so well," said Evans, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Advisors, who was on his way to work when he came to the teenager's aid.

"She was a young woman in need," he said. "You've got extended families in the communities that you live in. I would hope that if my son or my wife got in trouble that somebody would lift a hand and help them out."

The same instinct prompted Javiera Guarda to get out of her car and confront the man with the puppy.

"I think we all deserve to live somewhere where we watch out and stick up for one another," said the 25-year-old, who studied literature in college but for now works in a juice and smoothie bar, where no one knows of her bravery.

It was Guarda confronting the man and his loud threats back to her that caught the attention of makeup artist Suga Brown-Faal, 42, who was on her patio enjoying egg nog French toast with her best friend. Brown-Faal sprang into action, calling police and taking photos and video of the man and dog on her phone. The man is now serving a 16-month sentence in state prison, while the dog has recovered and found a safe home.

What would you do? Brown-Faal saw no choice.

"When you do nothing, you infringe on your happiness," she said. "You become a prisoner in your home, afraid to go out."

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

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