The last day of March was a tough day in this already difficult time in our country and in our world. But that day, in particular, hit especially hard for me and many of my colleagues. Not only was it the 28th anniversary of the death of Nelson Yamamoto, a young Firestone deputy who was mortally wounded during a ferocious gunfight, but we lost another Firestone deputy that day. Art Escamillas had died unexpectantly.
That morning, I woke early and posted my tribute to Nelson as I do each year. Soon after I had done so, I received word that Art Escamillas had suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 66 years old and had retired as a lieutenant just seven months before.
When I heard the news, I shared it with my very good friend John Babbitt, who had been Art’s training officer at Firestone in 1989. Of course, he took the news hard, lamenting how he had been meaning to get in touch with Art and that he hadn’t spoken with him for a while.
Later that day, Johnny emailed me a story he wrote while reflecting on his early days with Art, and he gave me permission to share it here.
These are Johnny’s Words:
I was a training officer at Firestone Station and had just been assigned a new trainee, Art Escamillas. Although he’d go on to become an outstanding cop, like all trainees, he was very green (like having a ride-along with a gun).
It was the first hour of Art’s first day as a patrol deputy. I was giving him the perfunctory tour of the area, with no intention of making a hook. I started in my favorite hunting ground, the southwest border of the area. LAPD 77th Division was on the west (the other side of Central Avenue) and LAPD Southeast Division was on the jagged southern border. It was tough to tell if you were in the city or the county, and the crooks sure didn’t know. It was a target-rich environment. Further, even if you were in the city, you were within the line-of-vision of the county, and every watch commander at Firestone Station would sign that arrest review.
We were southbound in the alley east of Central. We stopped north of 91st Street. As we did so, an old Pontiac came to a stop northbound in the same alley south of 91st Street. The driver (a middle-aged black man), and I locked eyes. Art was oblivious, still taking in the environment. The driver gave me the “oh shit” look, then with his right hand did a backhand toss out through the open driver’s side window. He tossed a foil package nearly big enough to hold a sandwich to the pavement and made a quick right.
I followed with a quick left turn, pulling partially into the alley. I positioned the car so that the discarded foil package would be right outside Art’s door, and yelled, “Grab it,” while straining to keep the Pontiac in sight. Art replied, “Grab what?” To which I yelled “The fucking foil.” He opened the door and grabbed it.
Up to this point, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was arrestable. As soon as he brought it into the radio car, we were overwhelmed with the strong odor of PCP (Phencyclidine). He asked, “What is it?” I yelled back, “It’s PCP.” He wisely didn’t ask how I knew, although I’m sure he was thinking it. I’m also sure that during his illustrious career, he became very familiar with that odor, but not on that day.
We chased that Pontiac down before it hit the tracks, and arrested the driver. That arrest was pure luck, but Art didn’t know that, and I wasn’t about to tell him. While booking the man, Art’s eyes were the size of silver dollars, with a touch of vertical nystagmus from holding that package of freshly dipped Sherms on his lap.
He went on to become a good trainee, and later a great deputy and good friend.
Years later, after promoting to lieutenant, I was transferred to Century Station, where Art had recently transferred following a promotion to sergeant. Although Firestone was one of the two stations that merged to form Century Station, I had long since been forgotten by the deputies. Fortunately, Art’s reputation among the deputies was rock-solid. Many of the deputies in the training cadre had been his trainees.
After word got out that I had been Art’s training officer, it immediately changed their perception of me for the positive.
Art was a good cop and a good man. I’ll miss you brother, RIP.
(“Sherm” is the term for a Sherman cigarette that has been dipped in PCP. The odor is so strong it can be detected while driving past someone using it, if your windows are down, which is how Firestone deputies always patrolled.)
The personnel at Firestone station, sworn and professional staff alike, have always been a tightknit, family-like group. Although the station was closed in 1994, there is pride and comradery among those of us who worked there. Life-long friendships were made, and reunions are regularly planned and heavily attended. It truly was a place like no other. Art Escamillas was a part of that family, and like others who have gone before him, he will be fondly remembered by us all. Thank you, John, for that nice story and tribute.
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