Officer Cesar Zuniga Shows What it Means to 'Serve and Protect'
A little over a year ago on a chilly January night, central dispatch for the Simi Valley Police Department sent out a call regarding a vehicle fire on California State Route (SR) 118. Officer Cesar Zuniga was on patrol that night and at the time was a new hire of the Simi Valley Police Department.
Zuniga, a 2005 California State University Channel Islands graduate and a member of the CSUCI Police Department from 1999 to 2005, was on patrol with Senior Officer Rich Lamb his training officer, and happened to be near the location of the incident. They called the dispatcher and indicated they would respond to the scene.
"Just before we arrived we got an updated report from dispatch that the vehicle was over the embankment," Zuniga said. When they arrived at the scene, they found that the vehicle had gone over the guard rail along westbound SR 118, crashed down the embankment and had come to rest, engulfed in flames near Kadota Street.
"It was mangled," said Zuniga, who has been in law enforcement since 1993. The vehicle was on fire and so badly wrecked that he couldn't determine what kind of vehicle it was; however, he was able to see one thing � through the rear window Zuniga could see the head of the driver trapped in the burning mass.
At this point, Zuniga and three other officers, Sgt. Adam Darough, Officer Ryan Hamlin, and Lamb, were the only officials at the scene, and his years of training kicked-in. He reached through the back window, grabbed the driver's shirt collar and was able to free the victim from the wreckage.
The driver was badly injured, but survived the incident. Zuniga recently learned the driver is recovering and is in rehabilitation.
Zuniga was awarded the Medal of Valor by the Peace Officers Association of Ventura County for his actions. This medal honors an action of bravery and heroism through which a recipient demonstrates selflessness, personal courage, and devotion to duty.
Though he was notified of the award in 2006, he will be officially presented with the medal in April at a special dinner at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library to honor all law enforcement officials.
"I really enjoy my work," Zuniga said. "We are a voice for the victim and try to make a difference everyday."