Once homeless, this 19-year-old Marine earns salute from community

Eric Costelloe, Laura Costelloe, Alexe Pappageorge Jr. and Mariah Tapia look up at the "hometown hero" banner.
Eric Costelloe, Laura Costelloe, Alexe Pappageorge Jr. and Mariah Tapia look up at the new “hometown hero” banner in Pappageorge’s honor last Wednesday night in Huntington Beach.
(Courtesy of Natalie Moser)
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Good morning. It’s Wednesday, Jan. 10. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter with a look at the latest local news and events.

If on this chilly morning you’d enjoy a warm read with your latte, I have just the story to recommend — after you’ve finished this missive, of course.

There is a young man fresh out of United States Marine Corps boot camp who was surprised last week with a “Hometown Hero” banner in his honor installed at the corner of Main Street and Utica Avenue in Huntington Beach.

By all accounts, Alexe Pappageorge Jr. has not had an easy life, my colleague Matt Szabo reports in this story of the day the 19-year-old had a blindfold ceremoniously removed and was shown the banner during a gathering of his supporters. As Szabo writes, this was the scene last Wednesday night:

“Are you ready?” his girlfriend, Mariah Tapia, asked the 19-year-old Marine before removing the blindfold.

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“Ready for what?” Pappageorge responded with agitation.

He looked up to see his face on a banner, and then the moment hit him.

Pappageorge was homeless for six years when he was growing up. His mother had given him up and he’d lived with his father in a car on the streets or in hotel rooms. He attended school, but acknowledged that homework sometimes took a back seat to his other, more weighty concerns.

When he was in eighth grade at Sowers Middle School, Laura Costelloe, the mother of one of his classmates, discovered Pappageorge didn’t have a home. She said to him, “Please, let me help you.”

He accepted her offer and, this past week, her family was behind the new banner. It was a bit of a Christmas gift from the Costelloes, who now consider him a member of the family after all these years.

While in high school (first Edison, then Newport Harbor), Pappageorge played football and held down part-time work.

“I was just doing what I had to do to survive,” Pappageorge told Szabo. “At one point, I started having to not just provide for myself but also provide for my dad because he wasn’t working.”

Szabo reports that in his junior year, Pappageorge’s father had unpaid debts and was jailed in April 2022. Laura Costelloe took the teen in but searched for a more tenable solution. She reached out to Huntington Beach City Councilwoman Natalie Moser, who connected her with Planning Commissioner Oscar Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is an asset manager for the Orange County Community Housing Corp. He helped Pappageorge pay off his father’s debt before a Section 8 voucher could be accepted so the teenager could move into a Garden Grove apartment. But more help was needed.

Costelloe told Szabo that Pattie Rodriguez with the Illumination Foundation helped Pappageorge put together his first month’s rent, while Mike Glenn with Costa Mesa-based Share Our Selves helped him with the deposit. Despite the assistance, and the new digs, depression and loneliness set in. And so, when an assistant football coach suggested he join the Marine Corps, he took the advice to heart.

Yesterday, Pappageorge left for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to continue with infantry training, certain of the fact his community salutes him and has his back — as he has theirs.

MORE NEWS

Side-by-side images show a makeshift crosswalk and the official crosswalk.
Side-by-side images show a makeshift crosswalk, left, painted by an unknown person and the official, High-Intensity Activated CrossWalK or HAWK signal at the intersection of Wilson Street and Fordham Drive near Wilson Park in Costa Mesa.
(Left, Susan Hoffman; right, Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Do you remember reading about the rogue crosswalk that was spray-painted in Costa Mesa last year, presumably by someone tired of waiting for the city to install a proper one? City Hall announced Friday the long-awaited safety enhancement on Wilson Street near Wilson Park has been installed as part of a nearly $2-million project approved by the City Council in 2022. “Complete with a painted walkway and traffic lights that may be set into motion by pedestrians, the High-Intensity Activated CrossWalK — or HAWK signal — is designed to slow the rush of traffic along Wilson to allow easier access to the park and nearby residences,” according to the Daily Pilot article on the work. Resident Flo Martin told reporter Sara Cardine she was impressed by the signal but not so much by the passing motorists. “[Martin]” approached the crosswalk and pushed the button, which triggered an amber warning light to oncoming cars before displaying two solid red lights requiring a full stop. Right as she prepared to cross, however, a vehicle driving on Wilson flew through the red light, impeding her travel. “The HAWK signal works perfectly,” Martin said. “It’s just the drivers who are screwed up.”

Although it was approved in early 2023, the Laguna Beach ordinance banning the sale of balloons and other related restrictions didn’t go into effect until last week. The city is now promoting a “balloon-free Laguna Beach” campaign on its website, serving as a reminder of the action taken by the City Council last year. Penalties associated with the ordinance include a fine of up to $100 for the first violation, a fine not to exceed $200 for a second offense within one year, and a fine of up to $500 for a third violation in that time frame. A business license could be revoked for any further violations, according to the Daily Pilot reminder of the new local law.

Area cities are offering mobile health to homeless with CalOptima. in Orange County, CalOptima Health, a county-organized health system for low-income residents, is undertaking a new Street Medicine program to reach individuals living on the streets and in shelters with a fully equipped doctor’s office on wheels that cannot only provide basic care but can get them plugged into wider comprehensive healthcare and housing systems. Garden Grove, Anaheim and most recently Costa Mesa have partnered with CalOptima on the program. My Daily Pilot colleague Sara Cardine has all the details in this news article.

O.C. Supervisor Don Wagner will continue for another year as board chairman. Wagner, who is seeking reelection this year, was given a unanimous nod by his board colleagues during their regular meeting Tuesday morning in Santa Ana. The new vice chairman is Supervisor Doug Chaffee, with Andrew Do terming out. Wagner represents the Third District, which includes Anaheim, Irvine, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Orange, Rancho Santa Margarita, Tustin, Villa Park, Yorba Linda and unincorporated Modjeska, North Tustin, Silverado, Trabuco Canyon and Williams Canyon. Chaffee represents the Fourth District, which includes Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, Placentia, Stanton and Anaheim.

Businessman Tam T. Nguyen of Fountain Valley was voted in Monday as the new chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority. Nguyen, a co-owner of Advance Beauty College, was vice chairman of the OCTA board last year. He steps into the role previously held by Gene Hernandez. Newly appointed board members this year include Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken, Santa Ana Mayor Valerie Amezcua, Garden Grove Councilwoman Stephanie Klopfenstein and Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens.

Wind advisories in coastal areas of Orange County are in effect from 7 p.m. tonight until noon Thursday. It’s been cold and windy in the area. the past few days and the National Weather Service on Tuesday issued a wind advisory that said northwest winds of 20 to 30 mph will hit the area, with gusts up to 45 mph expected. The O.C. cities listed on the advisory are San Clemente, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.

PUBLIC SAFETY & COURTS

A still taken from body camera footage recorded on Jan. 17, 2023 shows a Seal Beach police officer with his gun drawn.
A still taken from officer body camera footage recorded on Jan. 16 shows a Seal Beach police officer with his gun drawn moments before a fatal police shooting on the 100 block of Old Ranch Road in Seal Beach.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

Two Seal Beach police officers who fatally shot an armed 47-year-old Irvine man outside a home last January have been cleared. An investigation by the Orange County district attorney’s office found the actions of Cpl. Bruno Balderrama and Officer Arion Knight — who on the night of Jan. 16, 2023 shot Michael Bernard Emch, Jr. 24 times after he refused to comply with commands and pointed a firearm at one of them — were reasonable and justifiable. The complete story can be found here.

Police on Saturday announced they were hunting for a driver involved in two crashes in Anaheim that killed a woman and injured three others. The first collision occurred around 5 p.m. Friday at Harbor Boulevard and Katella Avenue, where the driver hit three pedestrians and sped away, Anaheim police Sgt. John McClintock told the L.A. Times. The second occurred at Harbor Boulevard and Convention Way where the driver struck a woman, then took off again. She was taken to a hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. The other victims were taken to hospitals for treatment of injuries they sustained. The suspect’s car was described as a tan or gold Toyota sedan, possibly a Corolla or Camry. Anaheim police are urging anyone with information on the incident to call (714) 765-1900.

A Yorba Linda man pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges related to an alcohol-fueled crash that killed one of his closest friends. Noah Christopher Cooper Watson, now 20, was driving about 100 mph in a Ford F-350 pickup truck about 10:50 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2022, when he slammed into a center median and then into a eucalyptus tree on Yorba Ranch Road south of Via Sepulveda, killing 20-year-old Hunter Shekels. City News Service reported that in a plea deal with Orange County Superior Court Judge Larry Yellin, Watson was sentenced to four years in prison.

• Two adults escaped from a house fire in Garden Grove Sunday morning by climbing outside through a second-story window. Firefighters were sent to the house on the 11400 block of Stanford Avenue at 10:42 a.m. According to the Orange County Fire Authority, the fire was extinguished within 13 minutes of their arrival and was contained to one room. No injuries were reported.

A car slammed into a Tustin house Monday night, causing a fire. City News Service reported firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze that erupted on the first floor of a two-story home in the 3800 block of Hamilton Street.

A motorcyclist died Monday night after a traffic collision on Gothard Street in Huntington Beach. The motorcylist, a 46-year-old man from Midway City, died at the scene after a crash with a Honda Civic. More details can be found in this Daily Pilot news brief.

SPORTS

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Jamie Drysdale (34) shoots in a 2022 game.
Anaheim Ducks defenseman Jamie Drysdale (34), who was traded to the Flyers Monday, shoots during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames in Anaheim in April 2022.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The Ducks traded defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a second-round pick in 2025 to the Flyers on Monday. In exchange they’re getting high-scoring college left wing Cutter Gauthier. According to L.A. Times reporting on the trade, “Flyers general manager Danny Briere said he traded Gauthier, the fifth overall pick in the 2022 draft, because Gauthier wouldn’t sign, train or even communicate with the Flyers.”

O.C. was well represented in the College Football National Championship game Monday in Houston. Locals on the Michigan roster included defensive lineman Mason Graham (Servite), wide receiver Cristian Dixon (Mater Dei) and offensive lineman Jeffrey Persi (JSerra). Darren Barkins, a defensive back, was on the Washington roster. He, like Dixon, played for Mater Dei while in high school. There were 49 Californians playing in the big game, which (in case you missed it) Michigan won, 34-14, according to Sports Illustrated High School News.

Newport Harbor girls’ soccer captured the Battle of the Bay win against Corona del Mar Thursday. The Sailors struck early and often in the 5-1 victory at Davidson Field, with four goals coming in the first half, the Daily Pilot reported.

LIFE & LEISURE

Brenda Emrick, aka "911 lady" retired Monday as Costa Mesa's acting emergency services manager.
Brenda Emrick, whose passion for safety training led to the nickname “911 Lady,” retired Dec. 31 as Costa Mesa’s acting emergency services manager.
(Courtesy of Brenda Emrick)

Placentia resident Brenda Emrick, the city of Costa Mesa’s longtime public safety specialist, has officially retired. Emrick came to the city as a fire protection specialist in 2004 and oversaw and developed public safety training programs for students, business owners, community members and civic leaders alike, according to this Daily Pilot feature story looking back on her career. Prior to serving Costa Mesa, Emrick worked in the cities of Downey and La Mirada.

Sunday was the last day visitors to Knott’s Berry Farm could experience the Camp Snoopy ride Huff and Puff. Camp Snoopy is being revamped, with its reopening expected to take place this summer. Huff and Puff, opened in 1983, is a casualty of the renovations. According to KTLA, those who rode the attraction Sunday were given a “Huff and Puff Last Ride” merit badge.

Call to artists: The Orange County Bird of Prey Center announced on Facebook yesterday its 2024 T-shirt design contest. The all-volunteer organization based in Lake Forest says this year’s T-shirt will feature Billy the Bald Eagle, its Bird of the Year, drawn in the medium of the winning artist’s choice.

CALENDAR THIS

David Greene (Berry Gordy), William Broxton (Martin Luther King), and producer-director Debora Wondercheck.
David Greene (narrator, Berry Gordy), William Broxton (Martin Luther King), and producer-director Debora Wondercheck, of the Arts and Learning Conservatory, from left, will stage the inaugural production of “Music of the March,” a musical tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, at the Barclay Theater at UCI on Saturday night.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

An original musical performance ahead of Monday’s federal holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be staged in O.C. this Saturday. “Music of the March: A Tribute to Rev. Dr. King Jr. and the Motown Sound,” will take at 7 p.m. at UC Irvine’s Barclay Theatre. The Daily Pilot published this feature story on the event over the weekend, interviewing Debora Wondercheck, the founder and CEO of the Costa Mesa-based Arts & Learning Conservatory, who commissioned the program. Lake Forest resident William Kevin Broxton takes on the role of King. Tickets for the show start at $35 and can be purchased through the Arts & Learning Conservatory or Barclay Theatre websites.

Also coming to O.C. this month is the Kontrapunktus production, “The Londoner: An English Baroque Salute.” Laguna Presbyterian Church will host the chamber music performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday; St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange will be the venue at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21. A Huntington Beach flutist, Khoi Dinh, will be among the musicians featured in the nine-piece group. General admission is $24.95, with discounted tickets available for purchase at $19.95 for seniors, students and veterans. For more information, visit kontrapunktus.com.

The life and career of the late singer-actress Olivia Newton John is being spotlighted this week in Costa Mesa. A cast of Broadway veterans will team up for the “Hopelessly Devoted” salute to Newton John. Curtain time is at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Samueli Theater, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive. The tribute will star Jessica Hendy, Kelli Rabke, David Burnham, Blaine Krauss and Scott Coulter, with John Boswell on the piano. Tickets, starting at $99, can be found here.

KEEP IN TOUCH

Thank you for reading today’s newsletter. If you have a memory or story about Orange County, I would love to read and share it in this space. Please try to keep your submission to 100 words or less and include your name and current city of residence.

I appreciate your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Please send news tips, your memory of life in O.C. (photos welcome!) or comments to carol.cormaci@latimes.com.