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From Catcher to Police Officer, Lim a Legend Under the Gun

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stacy Lim is something of a legend within the Los Angeles Police Department. The former Cal State Northridge softball catcher has a reputation for toughness that was earned the hard way.

Six years ago Lim, now 33, took a magnum bullet in the chest at point-blank range yet still managed to bring down her assailant in a face-to-face shootout.

She is a real life Dirty Harry, without the swagger or the “I know what you’re thinking, punk” speech. Just an officer, she says, who “doesn’t like to lose.”

In the early to mid-1980s, Lim tapped a similar mentality to help the Northridge softball team win three consecutive NCAA Division II titles.

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Former Northridge Coach Gary Torgeson remembers Lim as a tough, no-nonsense catcher who managed to keep ace pitcher Kathy Slaten focused and always seemed to come up with the game-winning hit against conference rival Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“Stacy was a stud,” Torgeson said. “Big, strong lady and enthusiastic. She took a big swing, not any different than they pay the big guys to do today.”

Lim’s swings usually paid huge dividends. Among former Division II players at Northridge, Lim, who is 5 feet 8, 160 pounds, ranks second with four home runs, third with eight triples and 64 runs batted in. Her career batting average of .238 was above average for its time, considering batters have been given two dramatic advantages since Lim left the fast-pitch game. The pitching rubber was moved back three feet in 1987 and a livelier optic-yellow ball was introduced in 1993.

During Lim’s tenure at Northridge, 1982-85, the Matadors were 182-68-5, winning 71% of their games. Forty-four of those losses came against Division I teams. The Matadors didn’t duck anyone. Torgeson made sure they were physically prepared and the rest seemed to take care of itself.

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"[Torgeson] ran us into the dirt,” said Lim, a 1981 graduate of Verdugo Hills High. “We won a lot of our games because he conditioned us so well. Basically, we just outlasted [the opponent].

“We got closer as a team because we were mad at him half the time. We had to stick together like a force, like, ‘We’ll show him he can’t beat us.’ ”

Years later, Lim could have died in a pool of blood on her driveway. But once again, she wouldn’t give in. She fought the good fight.

On June 9, 1990, after playing in a softball game in Cerritos and spending the late hours of that Friday evening with friends watching a video and eating pizza, Lim headed home to Canyon Country.

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Five gang members followed her in the early morning for 30 miles, intending to carjack her 1988 Bronco.

At the end of a routine 35-minute trip, Lim pulled in front of her house on West Nadal Street across from Canyon High about 1:45 a.m. Just as she always does, she stuffed her belongings--police and softball paraphernalia--into her ball bag, which was sitting on the passenger seat. The last thing she grabbed was her handgun, which she was about to place under her left arm as she exited her vehicle.

“The first thing I see when I step out of my car is the barrel of a .357 magnum,” she said.

Lim, who had been on the job for two years and off probation only four months, went for a standard two-hand hold on her weapon and had barely began to utter, “Police officer, drop the gun,” when the 15-year-old gang member fired a single shot into her chest.

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“It knocked me back a little bit,” she said. “If you were to take a large javelin, heat it up about 1,000 degrees and shove it through your chest, that’s about what it felt like. A real burning sensation.”

The suspect then disappeared behind Lim’s truck. Lim went after him and as she reached the back of the truck the youth again came at her, pointing his gun. Lim fired three shots into her assailant’s chest and neck and he fell to the ground.

“As he’s going down, he fires off the rest of his rounds at me, basically in the air,” she said.

Thinking the suspect wasn’t alone, Lim headed back around the driver’s side of the car to the front. “I’m thinking there’s someone else here, so I knew I had to get into the house.”

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Lim made it only as far as the bottom of her driveway before she fell.

She has no recollection of the seven days following. With the help of family and friends, Lim pieced together what transpired.

Thinking that neighborhood kids were shooting off firecrackers, one of Lim’s roommates came to the front door, spotted Lim on the driveway and called 911.

A 14-year-old girlfriend of the fallen assailant was found hiding in the bushes at the house next door when sheriffs began knocking door to door.

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“The other gangsters left her there,” Lim said. "[But] she’s the reason they got the rest of them in custody [three hours later], because she [identified] them.”

Lim went flatline on the driveway, but paramedics shocked her back to life.

The bullet, a hollow-tipped magnum load, fragmented and nicked nearly every organ in her torso: her stomach, her intestines, her liver. It shattered her spleen, cracked a rib and put a hole in the base of her heart before exiting out her back.

“The only thing it missed was my lung and kidney,” she said.

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After two hours of surgery at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, Lim was on life support. While in intensive care, she went flatline again.

The doctors told her family she was losing too much blood and that they would have to get her back into surgery.

“They cracked my chest open a second time. My heart seizes and they do a 45-minute heart massage to bring my heart back,” she said.

Doctors also found a severed artery that runs along a rib in her back and worked to repair it. But despite their efforts, their outlook for Lim’s recovery was bleak.

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“They told my family, ‘She’s got about an hour and half to two hours left to live. The only thing keeping her alive is machines, so do what you need to do to prepare yourselves,’ ” she said.

A nurse asked Lim’s younger brother to sign donor cards and authorize the removal of her undamaged organs once she died. The police department already had written her obituary. It seemed everyone had Lim counted out, except for those who perhaps know her best.

“It didn’t matter how many times they shot her, I knew she wasn’t going to die,” said Slaten, who was among her many former CSUN teammates in the waiting room.

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About 90 minutes after doctors told family members to prepare themselves for Lim’s death, there was a sign. Prompted by a doctor’s orders, Lim squeezed his hand and moved her foot. Suddenly, there was hope.

“It was truly an emotional roller coaster for everyone that was there,” Lim said. “For me, it was just physical.”

Lim came out of her comatose state a week later. “I woke up thinking, man, I lost this fight because I was sore,” she said.

But she soon learned she had shot and killed her assailant and that the others were all in custody. And unbeknown to her, her heroic effort was quickly becoming police folklore.

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For Nancy Alford, who was an academy cadet during the summer that Lim was shot, Lim was a legend, an officer all should aspire to be.

“That’s all we ever heard at the academy, ‘Stacy Lim this and Stacy Lim that,’ ” said Alford, now an officer working in the Valley and a teammate of Lim’s on a police softball team.

The legend grew when Lim passed on an offer from then--Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, who brought Lim a case of her favorite beverage--Pepsi--to the hospital.

“He said, ‘Stacy, if you want a pension, we’ll give you 70% of your pay, tax-free, for the rest of your life,’ ” she said.

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Some offer, but Lim never gave it a thought. “I’ve wanted to be a police officer since I was 12,” she said.

So, Gates countered with an offer to place her in whatever division she pleased.

Southeast morning watch, she answered--an assignment that included one of the worst homicide rates in Los Angeles at the time.

“He looked at me and thought I was crazy,” she said. “He said, ‘You want to go where?’ ”

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Lim had never been one to back down in the face of adversity, and she didn’t want to let “one gangster” stop her now. She wanted to be where the action was, where she was needed most.

“It’s busy and you learn fast [there],” she said. “You’re safer if you work in busy divisions [because] your tactics stay sharp.”

Lim, who has multiple large scars on her body--including one that wraps around her torso from navel to backbone, needed only eight months to recuperate and she was back out on the streets.

“I went through two major surgeries, died three times, only spent 15 days in the hospital and walked out on my own,” she said.

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Not surprisingly, a hero’s welcome followed. Lim was awarded the Medal of Valor, the highest recognition afforded an officer of LAPD, and her shooting was deemed an “on-duty” incident by Chief Gates. Lim even received an American flag with a letter from then-First Lady Barbara Bush.

“I got all kinds of stuff,” she said, sheepishly.

After working Southeast Division for 4 1/2 years, Lim was asked to teach cadets full time at the academy, which she has done for the past 18 months. Who better to teach tactics then Lim, who is one of a few cops, based on percentages, to fire a weapon and actually kill an assailant?

“I’m not better than anyone else, but in their eyes Stacy Lim was a good role model because of what I went through,” she said.

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Lim, whose father is Chinese, prefers to talk about herself--at least about the shooting--in the third person. It took her more than a year to accept the title of role model, but today she recognizes the importance of what she has to offer young cadets-in-training. And she draws constantly from past experiences.

“Nowadays, you don’t want to get shot first,” she said. “We tell them now, ‘If someone is pointing a gun at you, the time to talk is gone.’ If you’re talking, you’re not going to be able to shoot.

“In six years I’ve grown a lot. But at the time, I did everything right. That’s why people look at not me, but Stacy Lim as a role model, as maybe even a legend in LAPD, because she did everything by the book, the way it’s supposed to be done. And she lived through it. Not only did she live through it, she took [the gunman] out at the same time.”

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Lim, who does not drink alcohol and rarely swears, exudes confidence but refuses to rest on her laurels. She knows if she were to find herself in the same plight, she might not be as lucky.

“If you think you’re the best, you’re wrong,” said Lim, who hopes to return to the streets in two years. “There’s always someone bigger, better, badder. We tell them that in the academy all the time. Don’t think you’re No. 1 because someone is going to knock you off your block.”

On a warm night in June six years ago, a 15-year-old boy brandished his mother’s revolver and learned he was not up to the task of beating Stacy Lim. After all, you can’t kill a legend.

“When I passed out on my driveway, I truly knew that the Lord wasn’t gonna take me yet,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t gonna die.

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“But people say, ‘Yeah, but you did [die],’ and I say, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t stay dead.’ ”

The legend lives.


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