People v. Felix Day Four: Heroes Desperately Try to Save Officers’ Lives

Those who fought to save the lives of Palm Springs Police Officer Jose ‘Gil’ Vega and Officer Lesley Zerebny testified in court in the trial of John Hernandez Felix, the man charged with taking their lives.

Sergeant Shawn Flinn says he remembers seeing Officer Vega on the ground and still taking gunfire as he struggled to get him help.

“He was moving his right arm … I knew he was alive … I just told him, ‘I’m getting you out of here.’ ” 

Officer Mario Serrano, just 24-years-old, fresh from the academy and only two months on the force, arrived armed and ready to help, he saw Sgt. Flinn struggling to drag Officer Vega out of harms way.

His hands were slipping … he had a lot of blood on his shirt … so my hands were bloody and slipping off,” he says.

As they manage to drag him to safety, Sgt. Flinn wonders how he’s going to get Officer Vega to the ambulance.

Flinn says Officer David Etchason drove in just when he needed him, “I call him my angel.”

Serrano says he put his arms under Officer Vega’s arms from behind and pulled him into the police vehicle’s passenger side, and Flynn grabbed his legs and pushed, “I had all his weight on me,” adding he kept talking to Officer Vega who was still alive,“stay with us, we’re getting you help.” 

Serrano says Etchason drove them to safety and the fire department helped drag them out of the car and Officer Vega was still on top of him, he says he could still hear him mumbling and he was trying to comfort him, “I was trying to get him that comfort, letting him know he’s not alone.” 

Serrano rode with Officer Vega to the hospital.

Meanwhile Flinn, now back at the scene tries to rescue Officer Zerebny, while avoiding gunfire and right when they need a car, Etchason, his angel, is back, they manage to put her in the trunk of the car.

“Her legs were sticking out of the car … I remember thinking, ‘this is screwed up, we have an officer in the trunk of the car,’ ” says Flinn.

As they leave Officer Zerebny with an ambulance crew, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Cordero arrives.

Cordero says he started chest compressions on Officer Zerebny as medics got the gear ready, he realized he was the only officer there, and wasn’t sure where the shooter was, “In the 18 years I’ve never felt that sheer terror of getting my head blown off,” said Cordero.

He rode with Zerebny in the back of the ambulance to the hospital, Serrano was already there with Officer Vega.

As Desert Regional Medical Center trauma surgeon surgeon Dr. Frank Ercoli described the efforts doctors made to save the officers, images were shown of the officers’ lifeless bodies, their families sobbed.

Dr. Ercoli says despite trying everything to save them, it was too late, “We were not able to save Officer Vega,” he said adding Officer Zerebny’s injuries were too severe and she bled out, “Her heart was empty … she had bled to death.”

Serrano stayed with Officer Vega until everyone left the room.

He said he called Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes.

As he pointed him out in the courtroom, Chief Reyes wiped away tears. 

Serrano said he wanted to go back and help his fellow officers, “Where do you want me, can I go back?” he asked the chief. 

Felix’s attorney John Patrick Dolan asked every officer if they saw the person firing? All said they did not. 

Officer Serrano and Deputy Cordero both medically retired from their departments because of this incident.

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