Deputy Braves Flames, Pulls Boy to Safety

Times Staff Writer

Little Travis Pickney was playing in his stocking feet outdoors Wednesday with his brothers and sisters. His only pair of shoes had been destroyed in a fire at his home.

But Travis, 3, and his family were not complaining.

"I'm just grateful he is alive," said his mother, Jacqueline Pickney, who with her family of five receives welfare benefits. "I'm going to try and get him another pair of shoes."

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Moran, who is assigned to the Lynwood sheriff's substation, braved flames and smoke last Sunday to enter the Pickney home and rescue Travis.

Moran, 29, and his partner, Theresa Whitten, 30, probably will be considered for a commendation, said Deputy David Tellez, a public information officer.

'Glad Everything Worked Out'

Saving Travis' life was just part of his job, Moran said. "I'm just glad everything worked out," he said rather matter-of-factly. A seven-year veteran of the department, Moran had been assigned to the men's central jail in downtown Los Angeles before coming to the Lynwood station more than three years ago.

Whitten, a two-year veteran of the department previously assigned to Sybil Brand Institute for Women in East Los Angeles, has been working in the Lynwood area for about four months.

Moran's rescue of Travis was his second lifesaving attempt involving a child in less than five months. Moran and another partner, Deputy Joseph Fennell Jr., 23, were injured when their patrol car crashed as they sped to a hospital in an an effort to save the life of a 1-year-old girl who had stopped breathing.

Crashed Into Light Pole

Fennell was driving and Moran administering cardiopulmonary resusciation on the way to St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood when a truck swerved in front of them. Their car crashed into a light pole, and Moran's head went through the windshield. He continued CPR as a second sheriff's car carried him and the girl to the hospital.

"We weren't that seriously hurt," he said.

Doctors said, however, the child apparently was dead before the deputies attempted the rescue.

In the successful incident involving Travis, Moran and Whitten had been at the scene of a 6 p.m. shooting with other deputies on S. Willowbrook Ave. in the unicorporated county area of Willowbrook. A 21-year-old man had been shot and wounded by unknown assailants there. The victim, identified as Eric Dancy of Compton died later at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center, deputies said.

Moran and Whitten spotted flames shooting from a window of a nearby house. They ran to the home on East 120th Street where they found Pickney and four of her five children in the front yard.

Intense smoke and heat from the fire, confined to a rear bedroom of the five-room house, had driven the family outside.

When Pickney, 24, realized Travis was still inside, she became hysterical, Whitten said. "I had to restrain her from going inside."

She wrestled Pickney to the ground and held her there while Moran entered the burning house, but the fire drove him back.

"I couldn't get in," he said. "The flames and heat were too much. I couldn't see. I thought that was it. Nobody could have survived in there."

Heard Baby Cry

Then they heard the baby crying, Whitten said. She continued restraining Pickney while Moran reentered the house.

Moran saw Travis in the living room, but "when I called to him, he would not come to me," he said. He swooped up the boy and took him safely outside.

Deputies theorize that Travis had been asleep in another room and had awaken and become disoriented. He was taken to Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center where he was treated for smoke inhalation and released.

Sheriff's arson investigator said the fire had been started by one of the Pickney children playing with matches, said spokesman Tellez.

Pickney said she was satisfied with the deputies' conclusion.

County firefighters extinguished the blaze. Damage was estimated at about $21,000 to the house and $2,000 to its contents, said fire spokeman Jeff Myers.

Clothing Destroyed

Pickney said most of the family clothing was in the bedroom that was destroyed. She was able to buy the children, ranging in age 17 months to 6 years, clothes with money given to her by the American Red Cross, she said.

But she said, "I ran out of money before I could buy Travis some shoes."

Pickney said she hoped to juggle her monthly welfare check of $424 somehow "to pay rent, bills, buy food and get Travis some shoes."

She had nothing but praise for the deputies.

"I'm just grateful for them saving Travis," Pickney said. "They were concerned that they had hurt me (when she was wrestled to the ground). But they hadn't. I'm real happy."

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