The hail of gunfire came without warning, erupting from behind the tinted windows of a car parked near the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
For several minutes, bullets peppered the patrol car of Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Derek Franklin, who crouched behind the vehicle for protection.
"It sounded like the world was opening up," said Franklin of the nighttime shootout last Nov. 7 at the state reserve near Huntington Beach. Before the assailants sped away on Pacific Coast Highway, Franklin fired back and radioed a description of the fleeing car, even as he was bleeding from his right eye and left shoulder from bullet fragment wounds.
More than 40 officers swarmed to the area and eventually caught three of the suspects. The fourth apparently killed himself before officers found him.
For Franklin's actions that Saturday night, the 30-year-old deputy will be one of two deputies awarded the department's highest honor today: the Medal of Valor.
"You really have got to be careful," Franklin said Tuesday as he reflected on the swirl of events that night. "We just don't know what people's response might be. . . ."
"I thought they might come back and finish me off," added the deputy, who will also receive the Purple Heart because of his injuries.
A total of 13 Sheriff Department personnel will receive honors during the annual awards luncheon today at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa. They were chosen by the Sheriff's Advisory Council, a private group of business and community leaders, and Sheriff's Department officials. The council began the medal ceremony in 1988, Assistant Sheriff Dennis LaDucer said.
Each recipient will receive an award for saving a life, merit, courage or valor, according to LaDucer.
Franklin, a seven-year veteran with the Sheriff's Department who was a Medal of Courage recipient in 1991, said the life-threatening shootout made "both my wife and I realize I came close to not being there for the birth of my first child. It made me realize how precious your family is."
Another Medal of Valor recipient this year, Deputy David Lamphere, 42, had a similarly harrowing experience that led to his recognition this year.
Lamphere was about to end his shift last May 9, when he began pursuing a pickup truck along the San Diego Freeway in Irvine. The truck, which reached speeds up to 100 m.p.h., eventually reached San Diego County.
A passenger in the truck leaned from the window, leveled a handgun at Lamphere and fired about seven shots.
Lamphere swerved his car from side to side, but maintained the pursuit. "There's not much you can do," he explained Tuesday. "I'm just as likely to dodge into the bullet than not."
The gunman then propped himself on the top of the truck cab and began firing anew, Lamphere said. Bullets whizzed by his car and struck other California Highway Patrol units that had joined the chase.
The assailants led officers to a gas station in a small town in central San Diego County, where they eventually stopped and surrendered, Lamphere said.
The key to his survival, Lamphere figures, was concentrating on the danger ahead, not the anger or fear that he would eventually feel a few days later.
"No one was injured, (but) it was just by blind luck," he said.
This year's recipients of the Medal of Courage include Sheriff's Sgt. William Voltin, Deputies Wayne Quint and Michael Davis, and Reserve Deputy Michael Smith.
Medal of Merit winners are Sheriff's Department investigators Bob Blackburn, Robert Russell, John Ortega, Chris Rhodes, Deputy Michele Hill, and radio dispatcher Traci Sturms.
Sheriff's Deputy Steve Wilson will receive the Medal for Lifesaving.
Role of Courage
Five different awards will be presented to 13 people for their heroism and abilities during 1992 at today's annual Sheriff's Department award ceremony.
Deputy Derek Franklin helped capture suspected robbers while wounded in a shootout.
MEDAL OF VALOR
Deputy David Lamphere helped capture three assailants who shot at him repeatedly during a chase into San Diego County.
Deputy Derek Franklin (see above).
MEDAL OF COURAGE
Sgt. William Voltin and Deputy Wayne Quint persuaded a machete-wielding man in Midway City to surrender without any injuries to neighbors.
Deputy Michael Davis, while off duty in Whittier and with family members, helped capture a man who was on probation and had shot at him.
Reserve Deputy Michael Smith, a volunteer with the department, pulled a man from a burning house.
MEDAL OF MERIT
Investigator Bob Blackburn and Investigator Robert Russell solved a complicated murder involving a conspiracy to kill in exchange for $4,000.
Investigator John Ortega worked with the Regional Narcotics Task Force and became an expert regarding Colombian narcotics traffickers.
Investigator Chris Rhodes and Deputy Michele Hill teamed to solve a series of vicious robberies in South County.
Radio dispatcher Traci Sturms, in separate cases, talked two people out of committing suicide.
MEDAL FOR LIFESAVING
Deputy Steve Wilson successfully performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation to save the life of a man who had suddenly collapsed.
Source: Orange County Sheriff's Department