On August 29, 2008, then Riverside County Sheriffs Department Deputy Rick Espinoza was on patrol in an unincorporated part of Desert Hot Springs known as Brownstown.
“Just running into the desert where I think he’s going and then as the saying goes, the lights go out at that point and I was out for however long I was, and then came to and realized I had been shot,” says Sgt. Espinoza.
“It’s almost 10 o’clock at night, near the end of my shift, and I see a bicyclist who is on the wrong side of the road with no safety equipment on and I just barely saw him, so I turned around and made contact with him.”
That bicyclist was then 22-year-old Javier Trani. What Espinoza didn’t know is Trani was carrying a gun.
“At one point he goes into a desert area and jumps off his bicycle and precedes to run into the desert. So I give chase and I’m parallel in the direction I think he’s running, it’s dark and the only illumination I have is from my car lights,” says Espinoza.
That’s when Trani pulled out the gun and shot Espinoza in the mouth.
“It broke my jaw, split my jaw in half and blew out my lower portion of my teeth, caused damage to my airway and embedded a couple of bullet fragments into my spine and also damage to the flesh area of the throat,” says Espinoza.
“Every time I pass by here I stop and I reflect and it’s a little emotional,” said Espinoza, as we went back to that spot in the desert where he almost lost his life.
“I couldn’t see very far. I could not see, I would say not more than five feet in front of me. Everything was just blurry an I kind of had my sense of direction still and I was able to stumble back to my car. Once I got to my car, I remember opening the door and I remember dropping down to my knees and reaching for my radio inside the car, and what I didn’t realize at the time was that my tongue had been spit in half, and so when I tried to talk it was difficult and kind of sounded like I was under water,” said Espinoza.
After multiple surgeries Espinoza was back wearing a badge in just three months. Javier Trani is serving 15 years to life behind bars.
“He’s got to do the full 15 years, and then I myself have made a promise as long as I can, I’ll be there when his parole hearings up and my son has said that he will be there after to be sure that he serves the appropriate time,” says Espinoza.
Since being shot, Espinosa has risen to the rank of sergeant. He currently works in the Riverside County Jail in Indio. Espinosa says it’s more dangerous than ever to be in law enforcement.
“It seems now that there’s less of a regard for human life now a days, that’s what it seems like to me,” says Espinoza.
Even with the heightened level of danger, Sgt. Espinoza is not swayed from his career.
“I’m fortunate, I’m blessed in many ways with my family and my personal self and where I work. I just want to keep doing this until it’s time to hang it up.”