The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office honored four local residents Wednesday for acts of bravery.
The Citizens of Courage Awards, held annually by the office during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, recognizes local crime victims and witnesses who display courage in the face of danger.
The 2022 honorees recognized during Wednesday’s virtual ceremony were:
Eddie Michel, a facilities supervisor at San Diego City College who intervened when a man attempted to sexually assault a student on campus.
The victim, a 22-year-old woman, was punched and kneed in the face by her assailant.
Michel heard the woman scream for help and came to her aid, only to find the attacker standing above the woman.
After Michel intervened and began reaching for his cellphone to call police, the attacker ran off, but was apprehended nearby.
Michel said in a recorded interview played during Wednesday’s ceremony, “I was glad I was there that day and just happened to be the one.”
The defendant was convicted and sentenced to seven years to life in prison.
The prosecutor on the case, Deputy District Attorney Flavio Nominati, said, “He was the only person there and he said ‘I’m going to do it,’ and that level of bravery from someone this humble is remarkable…He absolutely saved her life.”
Bruce Mezan, who was riding his motorcycle when he was hit by a drunken driver and sustained several serious injuries, which necessitated the amputation of his right foot.
Mezan was recognized for his work in the aftermath of the crash, in which he’s spoken out publicly regarding the dangers of DUI driving.
Many of his speaking engagements include events at schools, in which he said he tries to reach out to young people who are around the age of the 24-year-old who struck him.
“I want them to understand that it’s not that hard for a regular person to find themselves in the position that the young man who struck me is in,” Mezan said.
Rosa Martinez, a woman who stopped at a Church’s Chicken restaurant in Otay Mesa only to become a witness to a mass shooting inside the eatery.
The 2019 shooting left one employee dead and two others wounded by gunfire.
While Martinez waited in her car parked just outside the restaurant, her teenage daughter was inside the restaurant getting food when the shooter opened fire.
“I thought I had lost her,” Martinez said in a video. “And then (the shooter) walked out like he didn’t do anything.”
The District Attorney’s Office said Martinez, who has some medical training, ran into the restaurant to assist the shooting victims, then called 911.
Martinez was also credited for testifying at the trial of the shooter, Albert Lee Blake. Blake, who prosecutors said shot employees after he was refused service for trying to use a counterfeit bill, was convicted of murder, attempted murder and other charges and sentenced last year to 146 years to life in state prison.
Regarding her testimony, Martinez said, “I was scared. I was nervous, especially to be in the same courtroom as he was. But it was something that I felt I had to do.”
Martinez said she was spurred to testify after thinking of the mother of the fatal victim, Maribel Ibanez.
“I just feel like as a mom, she did lose her child and I thought I (lost mine.) I feel like it was for us to put him behind bars and at least give her mom a little bit of justice,” Martinez said.
Oscar Stewart, a congregant present during the 2019 shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, was recognized for rushing at the gunman just after the shooter opened fire.
Stewart heard the gunfire ring out in the synagogue’s foyer, which led to the death of 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye and injuries to three others, including the synagogue’s rabbi and an 8-year-old girl.
After the first volley of shots, the gunman, John T. Earnest, began to reload his weapon, at which point Stewart — who was unarmed — ran towards Earnest and began screaming at him in order to distract him.
Earnest ran from the synagogue while Stewart and others chased him to his car.
“Things happen in a flash and you just react,” Stewart said of his actions that day. “You never know how you’re going to react and I like to say maybe next time this happens — God forbid — I’ll do the same thing. But you never know what you’re going to do so I’m just glad that I had the wherewithal to do what I did.”
Earnest later pled guilty in parallel state and federal prosecutions and received life sentences in both cases.
City News Service contributed to this article.