Mount Washington Man Saves a Life on 'the Hill'

When a school safety guard at Mount Washington Elementary School needed life saving care, Dana Johnson was ready.

For years, Dana Johnson has been driving up the Hill to drop his daughters off at , on most days he would politely wave to school's safety guard, Alex Liu.

"I never even knew his name," admitted Johnson, a father of four girls ages 19 to 11, all of whom attended Mount Washington Elementary.

On Monday, Jan. 8, something happened that would ensure that Johnson would never forget the safety guard's name. Johnson saved his life.

When the Training Kicks in

At 8 a.m. on Monday morning, Johnson found himself alternately supplying air to the school safety guard's lungs through a one way mask and applying chest compressions.

Moments before, Johnson had arrived at the top of the Hill to drop his youngest daughter, Karina, off at Mount Washington Elementary. Also in the car was 19-year-old Olivia, a student at Cal-State Sonoma, who was home for winter break.  When pulling up to the crosswalk that spans San Rafael Boulevard, Johnson saw the school's safety guard lying limp in the arms of two men.

Johnson, a Fire Marshall at UCLA for 18 years, who before that worked as a Deputy State Marshall and in local fire departments, immediately sprang into action.

His training kicked in, Johnson said, and the background noises common to elementary school mornings faded away. He checked Liu for signs of life. Nothing. He wasn't breathing. No pulse.

He began pumping on Liu's chest with his palms. Before he knew it, Olivia was by his side with his first aid kit and an oxygen mask. Another parent made a call to the Los Angeles Fire Department while others created a perimeter to keep children away from the scene.

After five minutes of CPR, Johnson checked for a pulse again. He found one this time.

"We checked for a heartbeat, and lo and behold, we had one--along with some shallow respiration," Johnson said.

After Liu was brought back to life, another parent stepped in to provide chest compressions while Johnson continued to supply air.

"You provide CPR to someone for that long and you're grateful for the help," Johnson said. "I was sweating afterward."

Moments later, the Los Angeles Fire Department arrived. Liu who was now breathing, was given additional care by paramedics and taken to an area hospital where, on Tuesday, he was resting in stable condition.

Almost as quickly as he arrived, Johnson left the Hill, as well.

"I jumped right back into my day," he said. It had been strange morning.

A Confluence of Coincidence

Johnson wasn't supposed to be at Mount Washington Elementary School on Monday morning.

Had it been a typical week day, Karina would have been dropped off by her mother.

Of course, Monday was no normal weekday.

It all started with Olivia--the oldest daughter who had been so quick on the draw with the first aid kit and the one way mask. She was home from break from college, and like most students, trying to handle all those appointments that can't be made while at school. On Monday, she was scheduled to get her wisdom teeth taken out.

So Johnson took the day off from work at UCLA. With his schedule free, he was now responsible for dropping off all of his daughters at their respective schools. First, 16-year-old Marissa, who had missed her bus, needed to be driven to her  high school in North Hollywood.

The trip up the Hill was just a brief detour before bringing Olivia to the dentist.

"I do believe that things happen for a reason," Johnson said.

Looking back on the experience, which he exited almost as quickly as he happened upon it, Johnson said he was reeling. Working in emergency services for three decades, he said the experience of helping to save a life never gets old.

"Inside, I was ecstatic," he said. "I was reeling."

More than anything, he said he felt lucky to be there, with years of training at his disposal.

"I feel blessed to be part of his life in his time of need with the training and background to do something to help him," he said. "It's really humbling."

Nina Zippay, a parent at Mount Washington who had driven by the scene, said she learned of the outcome of the events later in the day. Like Johnson, the series of events got her thinking about fate.

"It was a traumatic Monday morning on the Hill, I drove by and saw the scene but didn't know what happened until later," Zippay said. "When I learned about the outcome, I just thought of how lucky I was to live next to Dana Johnson."

Check Patch tomorrow for an update on this story.

Reies Flores January 12, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Thank you so much, Mr. Johnson. You and your daughter are a heroes. Alex has been a constant for us as a crossing guard on San Rafael, always keeping our kids safe. He's always been quick with a smile and a flash of the peace sign. We're all so relieved to hear that he is recovering. Thank you for saving his life. Thank you also, Mr. Fonseca for this story.
Reies Flores January 12, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Alex was featured in local artist, J Michael Walker's Exhibit, All the Saints of the City of Angels, at the Autry a few years back. His picture with the San Rafael streetsign in the background graced the back cover of the program. Here is what Mr. Walker wrote about San Rafael. I got chills re-reading it: San Rafael Avenue - A crossing guard-ian angel atop Mt. Washington Some two hundred years ago, Corporal José María Verdugo was deeded Rancho San Rafael, extending from Cypress Park and Mt. Washington, to Burbank and La Cañada Flintridge. José Maria soon passed the rancho to two of his children, who, as economic times worsened in the 1860’s, took on loans they could not repay and lost their inheritance. All that remains now of Rancho San Rafael are a few adobe houses in Glendale and a small road tumbling off Mt. Washington. The Avenue and Rancho were both named for the archangel San Rafael, who appears in legend as a wise stranger accompanying a boy named Tobias on the journey that will make him a man. The archangel's guidance led San Rafael to be regarded as the Guardian Angel. What comfort to find him still on the job, on San Rafael Avenue, where each weekday a crossing guard shepherds children across the crosswalk to Mt. Washington Elementary School. Anxious parents dropping their children off in the morning may take comfort in his legend's reassuring words: "For a good angel will accompany him; his journey will be successful, and he will come back in good health."


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