Art Escamillas

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:

Lt. Arthur Escamillas

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.)

Firestone Station

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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Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you will share it with your family and friends.


18 thoughts on “Art Escamillas

  1. Hi Danny ,
    Greetings from South- Central Los Angeles. They don’t like that term by the way, “South-Central”, the politically correct terminology now is ”South Los Angeles,”, which I don’t use.

    Your post about an old friend, Nelson Yamamoto, jumped out at me. I only knew Nelson for 17 weeks, the length of our LASD Sheriffs Academy. After the Academy we went our separate ways, I to Bell Gardens PD, Nelson to the LA County Jail to serve his time before shipping out to Firestone or Lynwood Station, can’t remember. I do remember that Nelson’s parents at our graduation were very unhappy about his choice of careers, but he wasn’t having that cultural interference in his American life. I never saw Nelson after graduation, and it is the irony of life that I am now working on the very spot where he passed away. I don’t know if you recall but he was very much alive and survived the shooting, but died from negligence at MLK hospital, a.k.a. Killer King. Make no mistake, that asshole who shot Nelson 4x (and who later received justice in a lonely upstate New York apple orchard thanks to a hero State Trooper) was responsible for his death. Nelson’s primary cause of death ( from having too much blood pumped into his body) was the final straw that shut down MLK Hospital, and rightly so. In 2015 a private hospital, Martin Luther King, Jr Community Hospital, using public funds, was built in its place. As irony would have it, I now work at the new hospital, which is doing the Lord’s work serving the folks here in South-Central. As I walk the halls, not a day goes by where I don’t think of Nelson, and I try my best to keep his spirit alive by making sure we assist, to the best of our abilities, every deputy and police officer that comes through our doors.

    PS-I’m enjoying your writings, keep it up.

    1. Mike, thank you for your this. I didn’t know about the parents. I did know that he had survived and took a turn for the worse at the hands of medical staff. I was there when he passed away. God bless you. That’s a tough, stressful place to work. Stay healthy, my friend.


  2. Sorry to hear of the passing of another good man.

    But I learned something — I didn’t know PCP had an odor. I worked in the medical records office of an acute psychiatric hospital in the late 70’s. I sure learned about the inhuman strength exhibited by folks high on PCP! I didn’t do patient care, but I learned to run back to Medical Records & close & lock the door when the code for an incoming PCP patient was called!

    A few years later at evening commute, I was stuck on the NB Harbor Fwy. Creeping along at 5 – 10 mph under the tunnel just before merging onto the WB Hollywood Fwy, I hit the van in front of me when I was startled by the NAKED man running across the traffic lanes!

    NAKED was an automatic diagnosis of PCP intoxification … but then again, I didn’t get close enough to smell him!

    1. Yes, a strong chemical odor, one that once you smell it you never forget it. In the eighties when it was commonly used in the ghetto we would routinely gets calls of someone naked and running down the street. It was always put out as a 390P, someone under the influence of PCP. Crazy times.

  3. Danny, Sonny, Johnnie, I’m sorry for your loss. Your tributes to the man are aces, and it’s clear he himself was ace high. Sorry boys!!!

    1. Deedub, thanks for those kind words. You are definitely a cowboy poet. Really enjoy the way you put words together!

  4. Hey Danny,
    It sounds like he was an outstanding copper, and one of the true heroes of this profession. RIP, my brother.

  5. I send my deepest of condolences to you and to the Escamillas family in this time of loss. Lt. Escamillas saved countless lives, and I also read how he saved the life of a baby! A Hero that now walks among Angels and in Heaven.

    I have always wondered why the Firestone Station was closed. The 1994 Earthquake was no doubt a factor in the closure. I also read the tragic story of Ofc. Yamamoto, and a senseless loss too.

    I have always wondered what became of surviving PCP users, because that drug was extremely dangerous. Delusions and superhuman strength don’t mix.

    Sending my prayers in this difficult time.

  6. Art was a great cop, great hunting buddy and a great man.

    I first met Art when I was a young Deputy at Norwalk Station and Art was a Reserve Deputy.

    years later I had promoted and was a new Patrol Sergeant and Art was a Training Officer.

    may some good arrest. he had the patient to teach the new Deputies.

    We became good friends, hunting buddies. September first for dove season. it was the friendship not the hunting that we returned each year.

    Gin and Gatorade. that was his drink of choice.

    He will be missed.

  7. In 1991 I was working with Art in a two man patrol car at Firestone Station. I recall responding to a call of a baby not breathing. Although many cities do not send police responses to medical emergencies, Los Angeles County did so at the time, and still does today. The concept behind this protocol is that a sheriff radio car will almost always arrive before a fire truck or ambulance.

    I mashed the accelerator down to the floor board and hit the light bar and siren switches, stating the obvious to Art as I drove like a maniac. “We gotta save this baby, Art!” Less than a minute later, as I brought the radio car skidding to a halt in front of the modest single story home, I saw a man pacing in front of the house, front door wide open. He yelled at us and frantically waved us in, imploring us to hurry. I yelled to Art as we ran toward the house, “Unless fire gets here before we leave, we’re gonna scoop and run! You grab the kid and do the CPR; I’ll handle the radio”. Art acknowledged me and ran past me. The mother, standing in the cramped hallway outside the bedroom, pointed to the bedroom as she yelled through wracking sobs, “Please save my baby!” Without so much as slowing his pace, Art said in a matter of fact tone, “We’re taking the baby to the hospital right now!” As i reached the bedroom door, Art went to the crib, scooped up the baby in his arms, and placed his ear over the little girl’s mouth to check for breathing. Mom, trying to get the words past her heavy sobs, was telling him that she had no idea why the baby had stopped breathing.

    Art pivoted on his foot to reverse direction, and charged out of the room with me trying to keep up behind him. I still remember how his left hand was positioned under the little girl’s back, fingers played out for support as he began mini chest compressions. I jumped in the radio car behind the wheel as Art sat in the passenger seat, still alternating between chest
    two-fingered chest compressions and delivering small puffs of air into the baby’s mouth.

    I keyed the mic as I slammed the radio car into gear and hit the lights and siren. I announced that we would be transporting a non-breathing baby south-bound on Compton Ave with MLK Hospital as our destination. I requested any available Firestone and Lynwood units assist in blocking the intersections for us on Compton Ave. What I saw take place will be imbedded in my memory forever. I watched sheriff radio cars, emergency light bars activated, pull up into signal controlled intersections, effectively preventing any traffic from entering as we blasted through stale red lights at over 70 miles per hour. This was repeated again and again, like some carefully rehearsed routine. And I remember watching my partner, Art, continuing to perform CPR on the little girl he was holding.

    We waited to hear about the baby’s status. I’ll also never forget hearing the words of the ER doc as he said, “You guys saved that little girl.” I pointed at Art and said, “He saved her.” And Art just said, ” Let’s go find a hook, partner”.

    1. Nice story Frank… Yeah, that was Art. Much like any Firestone Deputy, not interested in any glory, let’s go find a hook.

    2. Frank, that was a great story that brings back strong emotions and memories to this day. Thank you.

      Pat Martin

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