Los Angeles Police Officers Angelito Angeles and Henry Izzo spent a harrowing, pre-dawn hour a year ago at the Northridge Meadows apartment complex and an adjacent building, pulling residents from the collapsed structures.
Their earthquake rescues earned them nominations for the Los Angeles Police Department's Medal of Valor, and the officers were hailed as heroes in the department. But when Gov. Pete Wilson told the story to California in his State of the State address last week, one important part was left out: Officer Angeles.
Wilson praised Izzo's heroism, calling him "the first officer to arrive at the horrifying scene of the collapsed Northridge Meadows apartment complex." But he made no mention of the officer at Izzo's side.
While Izzo, 45, and his wife, Rosalita, were being wined and dined in Sacramento as guests of honor the day of the speech, Angeles was doing paperwork at the LAPD's Devonshire station and feeling overlooked.
"We didn't do it for the recognition," said Angeles, 30. "But you give credit where credit's due."
Wilson spokesman Paul Kranhold said that the governor had not meant to slight Angeles, but that the LAPD had highlighted Izzo's role, and that Wilson was particularly taken by the story of the 25-year veteran dashing into the doomed apartment building.
Izzo said Angeles should have been included in the festivities. "We were together the entire time," Izzo said. "We never split up once."
The two were on patrol that night, driving west on Chatsworth Street at 4:31 a.m. when the ground rumbled.
"My first thought was: 'Wife!' " Angeles recalled. They immediately headed toward Angeles' apartment in the 9600 block of Reseda Boulevard. Driving through Northridge, their headlights shone on a crowd of dazed people--many still in their underwear and stumbling in shock--that suddenly materialized in the streets.
A knot of these people, who reminded Angeles of the zombies from the movie "Night of the Living Dead," were gathered near Angeles' apartment building. Tracey Angeles, herself an LAPD detective, had been awakened by a bookshelf falling on her, and was then struggling with the door of her damaged apartment. The two officers bolted into the building and helped her out of the apartment and into her car.
She sped off for the Devonshire station as the officers heard screams from across the street. A group of pedestrians gathered around Izzo and Angeles and began tugging on their sleeves, pointing across the street to two buildings.
"Those people need your help," they said.
Residents of the two complexes--The North Ridge and Northridge Meadows--were standing at their shattered windows and cracked balconies, crying for help. With only their flashlights to illuminate the dust-filled darkness, Izzo and Angeles squeezed through a hole in the twisted gate to The North Ridge and crawled under a concrete arch that trembled with every aftershock.
They went through the building, and Angeles, a martial arts expert, kicked down doors that had jammed shut. Grabbing the dazed residents who emerged, the officers hustled them outside through the buckling concrete arch.
After someone told the officers that the people next door, in Northridge Meadows, also needed help, they walked up to the shattered windows of ground-level apartments and began to coax residents out.
Angeles squatted and shone his flashlight at what he thought was the Meadows' foundation.
"Henry," he said, "there are people down here."
The officers began shouting to the residents trapped underneath the building. All they heard in reply were moans.
Then their radios squawked, ordering them back to the station. Reasoning that without more equipment they could not help the trapped residents, Izzo and Angeles returned to the station. They worked until midafternoon, as others took over the rescue work at Northridge Meadows, and then slept in the station's jail, which had been converted into a makeshift dormitory.
The moans of those trapped residents still haunt the officers--16 Northridge Meadows residents died that night. "It was such a helpless feeling," Izzo said mournfully. His night of heroism "wasn't a (career) highlight. Working the Olympics was a highlight, because then everyone was smiling and happy."