2004 Surf Festival Dinner Honorees
2004 Medal of Valor Honorees
Ocean Lifeguard Specialist John Larson
On the night of April 25, 2004 Ocean Lifeguard Specialist John Larson was working the night shift out of Santa Monica Headquarters along with his partner, Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Jay Hopkins. At approximately 10:00 p.m., a call was forwarded from the Sheriff’s Department reporting a missing swimmer. John and Jay responded to an address back in the Venice Avenues where the 911 call had originated. While Jay drove, John put on his wetsuit. A group of young people had been escaping the spring heat by playing in the waves at night when they discovered one of their friends was missing. The group was frantic and could not even accurately report exactly where they had been in the water.
John instructed them to point to the last area they thought they had last seen their friend. Since the victim had been in the cold springtime water for 20-30 minutes, the guards knew that the time was critical. John immediately hit the water, paddling a rescue board in the pitch-black darkness through 6-foot surf to search for the missing swimmer. Aware that a powerful rip current had been pulling all day next to and beyond the Venice Breakwater, John headed into the current. About 200-yards outside the breakwater, John heard a weak cry for help. Repeatedly calling out in the dark, John located the exhausted, hypothermic, and fully clothed swimmer just as he was about to go under. Teaming up with the Baywatch crew who had arrived on the scene, John loaded the victim onto the rescue boat for medical care and transport.
Ocean Lifeguard Mitch Kahn
Ocean Lifeguard Ryan Addison
Rescue Boat Captain Jay Butki
On September 21, 2003 Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Ryan Addison, Rescue Boat Captain Jay Butki and Ocean lifeguard Mitch Kahn were water-skiing on the Colorado River along with State Lifeguard Darlene Randles. Just as they were heading to the dock for dinner, a high performance jet boat tore by their stern at a high rate of speed. As the boat went around the bend in the river, it rammed into and through another boat, literally cutting the smaller boat in two, destroying the boat and throwing everyone into the water.
With Mitch at the helm, the guards approached the crash site to find a horrific scene. The river was covered with debris from the destroyed boat and nearly 100 gallons of oil and gasoline covered the water. In the middle of the mess, they saw two victims floating face down in the water. Ryan and Jay immediately dove into the water, swam through the debris and spilled fuel and pulled the victims from the water. Mitch used the boat to protect the rescuers from boat traffic on the river and even then, Jay narrowly avoided being run down by another powerboat. After reaching the dock, Ryan and Jay began CPR on both victims who where in full cardiac arrest.
Not knowing how many victims might be involved, Mitch, who also serves as a Paramedic Fire Captain for the Orange County Fire Department, continued to search the river. During his search spotted an 18-year-old female victim underwater. Mitch and Darlene dove in and retrieved the young woman.
Local paramedics responded after about 15 minutes and the guards assisted with life support functions for over an hour. One of the victims did, in fact, survive. Tragically, the others did not.
The driver of the boat had immediately left the scene, but turned himself in to the Sheriffs Office 2-days later. He is facing charges of felony negligent homicide.
Ocean Lifeguard Troy Haley
Ocean Lifeguard Troy Haley was enjoying a day off and was surfing at El Porto in Manhattan Beach. He finished his session early and was paddling in through 4-foot surf, when he noticed 5 people were caught in a rip current and were being pulled from a sandbar out into deep water. Three had been pulled outside and the other two were still inside the surfline and screaming.
Troy paddled to two of the victims who were fully clothed and weighted down in the water. One had panicked badly and was climbing on the other victim in an attempt to stay afloat. Troy dove and pulled the submerged victim onto his surfboard.
At this point the first victim, a large man in his early twenties, grabbed onto Troy. Troy had to literally defend himself from the panicked swimmer, or else both he and the two victims would be lost. Troy managed to disengage himself from the swimmer and calm him down. He was then able to float both of these victims on his board and make his way 30-yards further off shore in order to reach a third victim who was now critical.
Troy managed to keep himself and all three victims afloat until Dave Kastigar, the on-duty Ocean Lifeguard Specialist swam out and together the two brought all three victims to shore.
Ocean Lifeguard Patrick O'Neill
On June 2, 2004, Patrick O’Neill was working the isolated station at Corral Beach in Malibu. A large swell was running, with 8-12 foot surf. Looking nearly a mile down the beach, Patrick noticed 8-swimmers had made their way during a lull between sets out into the drop zone. As the waves began to build and roll in, Patrick phoned Zuma Headquarters to let them know the situation, grabbed his rescue can and fins, and began to run to the scene.
When Patrick arrived at the scene, after a one mile run, four of the swimmers had reached the beach but the other four had been pulled out to sea over 100-yards and around a rock jetty, out of site. Patrick swam out through the surf and around the rock jetty to the four high school age swimmers, two males and two females. It turned out the males were water polo players. They stated that they could tread water. Patrick instructed them to wait while he pulled the two females through the crashing surf to shore. He then went back out for the two males. As he brought them in, they were pounded by 12-foot sets. When they finally reached the beach, the two males became violently ill but were alive.
Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Tim Gair
Ocean Lifeguard Mike Cooper
On the evening of Mother’s Day, May 9, 2004, Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Tim Gair was working Dockweiler North and Ocean Lifeguard Mike Cooper was working Tower 41. At around 5:00 p.m., Tim was monitoring marine radio traffic when he heard a report of an unconscious person in the water near the marina.
Tim drove toward tower 41 and observed a 15-foot boat headed for shore loaded with people with a body draped over the bow. Mike grabbed his boat-tow line and fins and headed for the boat.
As it happened, a family of 15 had rented the small boat while four other family members had rented two personal watercraft. When one of the watercraft overturned, the two persons on board were dumped into the water. The father of the family dove off the small boat to assist the people in the water. The two people did make it onto the boat but the father, a large man, was unable to climb back on. Soon he became exhausted and was having trouble breathing. The family feared he was drowning and decided to bring him to shore.
While Tim P.A.’d the boat to stay out of the surf line, Mike reached the boat, secured the father on his rescue can, and began to swim him to shore. Tim continued to instruct the passengers on the boat, which was now dangerously inside the surf line, to motor back off shore and to inform them that the Baywatch rescue boat and beach lifeguards were on their way.
The family members in the boat, too distraught to reason, ignored Tim’s instructions and continued towards shore. Finally, the boat was hit by a wave and the boat capsized. With 15 persons, several under 3-years old, and many non-swimmers in the water, the situation had gone from bad to catastrophic.
Tim hit the water and Mike, leaving the father on the beach, headed back out into the surf line where he heard the mother screaming, “My Baby! My Baby!” Tim grabbed the baby from the water and Mike got the mother to safety. Tim and Mike made numerous rescues, along with Abby Balderas from Baywatch del Rey. All fifteen were rescued but ten of the victims had to be transported to local hospitals. All survived.
2004 Distinguished Service Honorees
Ocean Lifeguard Trace Neilan
On November 1, 2003, Ocean Lifeguard Trace Neilan was enjoying a day off with his family and was surfing in front of his home in Oxnard. Trace noticed two young children playing in shallow water approximately 300-yards up the beach. A few minutes later he noticed one of the children, a 5-year-old boy, step into an inshore hole and immediately begin to struggle.
Wearing a wetsuit, Trace ran the 300-yards to the scene. There were no parents in sight. Trace ran to the boy and reached him as the exhausted boy began to sink. He carried the boy to shore as the boy’s caretaker walked up, oblivious to the tragedy that had been averted by Trace’s timely actions.
Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Jamie Orr
On Memorial Day, May 31, Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Jamie Orr was working as a deckhand on Baywatch Santa Monica. The Baywatch responded to a rescue in progress off Avenue 21 in Venice. Upon arriving on scene, Jamie was informed by beach lifeguards that the victim had submerged. Jamie put on mask and fins and dove into the water in the area the beach lifeguards had last seen the victim.
Jamie dove to the bottom and on his first attempt, amazingly located the victim and brought him to the surface. Jamie immediately initiated rescue breathing as the victim was pulled onto the Baywatch. Determining the victim to be pulseless and non-breathing, CPR was begun. After several minutes, the patient regained a pulse. After paramedic transport, the patient spent 3-days in the ICU and went on to make a full recovery.
Ocean Lifeguard Paul Hugoboom
On November 12, 2003, Ocean Lifeguard Paul Hugoboom was off-duty, surfing in Bluff Cove off Palos Verdes. Paul noticed a surfer in distress and went to investigate.
The surfer’s leash had become entangled on rocks below the surface. Unable to free himself, the surfer was being dragged under the water by the large surf. An expert free diver, Paul dove to the rocks and untangled the leash, freeing the surfer, and preventing a horrible tragedy.
Lifetime Achievement Award
2004 Lifetime Achievement Honoree
Jinx Wible is the recipient of the 2004 Los Angeles County Lifeguard Lifetime Achievement award. Jinx has been a County employee for over 28 years working for the Lifeguard Division. During her tenure as Executive Secretary, Jinx has trained 5 Chief Lifeguards, one of them twice: Howard Lee; Bob Williams; Howard Lee; Don Rohrer; Randy DeGregori; and Mike Frazer. She has seen the institution transition from the Department of Beaches to the Department of Beaches and Harbors and then ultimately to the Fire Department.
No matter what the name, Jinx has always had the answer to any question and the location of any resource. She serves as the Lifeguard Division’s gatekeeper, unofficial historical society, head cheerleader, and is reverently considered “The Mother of All Lifeguards.”
Without Jinx, there would be no supplies, no fuel, no pay, and lifeguards in the towers. It is hard to overstate the impact to the lifeguards that Jinx has had over the years. She was there when the merger took place with Beaches and Harbors with all the necessary explanations as to who did what and why the did it. She lived through the behind the scenes political maneuvering of the takeover of the beaches by the State of California and their eventual return to Los Angeles County. She helped integrate the lifeguard culture with that of the Fire Department. She has seen literally thousands of lifeguards come and go, first as rookies, then as college grads, then as parents and finally as retirees. She has been a beacon of stability and longevity in an organization that has undergone many transformation and re-inventions. She is the Mother of All Lifeguards, she is the first woman, and she is only non-lifeguard to be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.