Tim Africano walked gingerly and sat down softly. The Orange County Sheriff's deputy who hung over the Banderas Bridge retention fence and held onto a suicidal teen with one arm until help could arrive and lift him to safety, was honored last week by the City as its Deputy of the Year.
But Africano, a motorcycle cop and seven-year veteran of Rancho Santa Margarita, doesn't much feel like a superhero these days.
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He was the first responder to a June 4 incident on the Banderas Bridge that was one in a series of bridge rescues that Patch named its top story of the year. But Africano was also involved in a harrowing accident on his way to work on Sept. 6 in Trabuco Canyon. He has been recovering from injuries suffered in that crash in which his department-issued motorcycle was destroyed after hitting a wet patch of road and crashing into a metal pole. Africano was thrown from the bike or might have been more seriously injured.
Honored early in the City Council meeting of Feb. 13, Africano declined to speak to the audience during the commendation by Mayor Tony Beall and chief of police services Lt. Brian Schmutz.
"His absence has been felt by all of the Rancho Santa Margarita police services team as he is a consistently professional and positive presence among his peers and supervisors," Beall said.
Schmutz said he was honored to be his lieutenant: "For those of you who don't know Tim, he's the kindest, gentlest guy, very professional and a super team player."
Afterward, Africano said his recovery had gone "not so good." As he became more mobile, doctors discovered more things wrong with him, he said. He originally thought he would return to work by the first of the year. He has now been rehabilitating five months from injuries originally diagnosed as broken ribs, a lacerated spleen and a collapsed lung.
Anxious to return home because of the pain at the end of the short presentation, Africano said in the City Hall hallway the award "means a lot to me."
"It's very special to have my supervisor and peers feel this way," he said. "I love being in this city, and for my supervisors to feel I'm doing a good job in the city I love to work in is really great."
Although he doesn't live in RSM, he said Rancho Santa Margarita was where he chose to patrol.
The City is glad he did.