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Right place, right time: FPD officer saves choking boy, his third life-saving act since '12

Right place, right time: FPD officer saves choking boy, his third life-saving act since '12

Right place, right time: FPD officer saves choking boy, his third life-saving act since '12

By Greg Hardesty-Behind the Badge

Sgt. Craig Odom had to have his arm seriously twisted to appear before the TV cameras Friday afternoon.

Didn’t want to do it.

Had to seriously be convinced to do it.

A humble cop who dreads the spotlight, Odom nevertheless decided to walk into the mural room at Fullerton PD headquarters on March 4.

After all, an extended family that included a 16-month boy, Jonathan, was waiting to greet him.

The day before, Jonathan was chowing down on beans, rice and shredded chicken at El Camino Real, a favorite Mexican haunt on Euclid Street in Fullerton.

He was enjoying lunch with his brother Dylan, 3, cousin Robert, 3, and his mother and grandmother.

Odom, a traffic sergeant, was halfway through his shift when he stepped up to the counter of El Camino Real to order a chicken taco.

It was around 12:30 p.m.

Odom’s back was to Jonathan’s high chair.

The boys got antsy while eating at the table and started messing around.

Oops!

Spilled water.

As Jonathan’s grandmother, Eva Najar, and his mother, Stefany Gallegos, tended to the mess, they momentarily took their eyes off Jonathan.

Najar was the first to notice something wrong when she looked back at her grandson:

Blue lips.

“Stefany,” Najar said, “he’s choking!”

It was all happening so fast.

The women froze.

Odom, waiting for his food, didn’t.

He turned around, scooped Jonathan out of his high chair, and performed the Heimlich maneuver.

Out shot the particle of food stuck in the boy’s mouth.

As Jonathan’s family was taking in what had just happened, Odom spotted a Fullerton Fire crew outside and summoned them inside to make sure Jonathan was OK.

Then the 25-year veteran FPD cop got his food and left.

“Bless you!” Najar told him before he did.

Then she and Gallegos realized: We didn’t even get his name!

Two FPD detectives who happened to be eating at a nearby restaurant came inside El Camino Real to see what the fuss was about.

The women told the cops they wanted to thank the officer who saved Jonathan. The detectives took down their contact info.

Later that day, Najar posted on Facebook what had happened, thanking the cop whose name she didn’t know.

Sgt. Kathryn Hamel, the FPD’s public information officer, saw the post, reposted it on the FPD’s Facebook page, and the story took off.

And on Friday, Hamel arranged to have Jonathan and his family come to the FPD to thank Odom.

They brought a cake (with the words “Our Hero Sergeant Odom May God Bless You” on it) and cookies.

The soft-spoken cop entered the room and greeted the family.

Jonathan held a “Thank You” helium balloon.

“We’ve been trying to teach him how to say ‘Odom,’” Najar said.

For Odom, it was his third life-saving act in recent years.

In 2012, he pulled a woman out of a burning car after a traffic accident.

She survived.

In 2014, he and a partner were checking on a woman whose coworkers were concerned because she failed to show up at work.

The officers forced entry into her home and found her on the floor unresponsive.

Odom performed CPR on the woman.

She survived.

Hamel said Odom would be recognized in June at an awards and promotions ceremony with his third lifesaving award — the most, she believed, any officer at the agency has received.

“He always happens to be in the right place at the right time,” Hamel said.

As for Odom, after spending some time privately with Jonathan and his family, well, he got back to work.

“He acted so quick,” Najar said. “He really was an angel. Because of him, we have Jonathan here today.”

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