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Citizens Honored for Their Courageous Deeds : Heroism: Among honorees at luncheon was a couple who protected a 4-year-old from molester and returned her to her parents.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike and Julie Burton said they didn’t think twice when they spotted a 4-year-old girl crying on a street corner in Escondido late one night last June.

Surprised to see a child out alone at 10 p.m., they quickly pulled over in their car. While Mike phoned police, Julie and their daughter watched over the child, protecting her from a “suspicious” man they noticed pacing back and forth nearby.

The couple’s actions may have saved the little girl’s life, according to the district attorney’s office.

She had been kidnaped and sexually molested earlier that day by the man observed by the Burtons. The suspect was arrested that night, after Mike Burton followed him until police arrived on the scene, and has since been sentenced to 17 years in prison for the crime.

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The Burtons were among nine people honored for their courage by local law enforcement agencies and the San Diego Rotary Club at a special ceremony this week.

The event was put together by the club, the district attorney’s office, sheriff’s and police departments to praise citizens for heroic deeds this year.

“We feel we were there at the right time and that we did a good thing,” said Julie Burton, 47. “It makes me feel good that we were able to get the little girl back to her parents.”

About 250 people attended the ceremony, where the guests of honor were presented with inscribed marble trophies.

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The Rotary Club got the idea to honor local heroes after the club president attended a similar event in Los Angeles last year, said Chet Lathrop, executive director of the San Diego Rotary Club.

“These are people I would call true American heroes,” Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller said at the awards ceremony. “It is not very often that we get to meet and personally thank individuals who put their own safety at risk to help other people.”

Also honored were a couple who saved a pair of out-of-town honeymooners from robbers; a father-and-son team who caught a thief; a man who pulled an unconscious driver from his burning vehicle and a man who halted a rape.

A posthumous award went to a man who was shot and killed after running to the aid of a robbery victim.

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“This (child’s) story turned out good,” Julie Burton said. “By our stopping, we did save that little girl’s life. Maybe if more people got involved, there would be more happy endings.”


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