City honors San Diegans who helped Las Vegas victims

SAN DIEGO - The City Council proclaimed it "Las Vegas Unsung Heroes Recognition Day" in San Diego Monday in honor of area residents who assisted victims in the Las Vegas mass shooting that left 58 concert-goers dead and hundreds of others wounded.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf called the Oct. 1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival on the Vegas strip "one of the most horrific events in American history" and praised Taylor Winston, Jenn Lewis, Officer Max Verduzco, Officer Tom McGrath and his wife, Tiffany.

"Many people ran away from the gunfire, but a few chose to go back to help others," Zapf said. "We've heard many, many stories of unsung heroes helping victims on that day."

She said Winston -- an ex-Marine living in Ocean Beach -- and Lewis, his girlfriend, found a truck with its keys in the ignition and used the vehicle to rush about two dozen shooting victims to a hospital.

Verduzco knocked over a fence, allowing the crowd to escape, according to Zapf, while Officer McGrath treated numerous gunshot victims on the concert grounds. The two cops were among more than a dozen SDPD officers at the festival, along with seven San Diego firefighters.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said the officers put their lives on the line every day, and had been enjoying some days off in Las Vegas when they found themselves at the scene of a massacre. That so many civilians helped out demonstrated that public safety is a shared responsibility because no one knows when danger is going to strike, she said.

"I couldn't be more proud of our police officers, couldn't be more proud of you and our community members that looked danger and evil in the eye and said, `Not today, not on my watch,"' Zimmerman said.

A 64-year-old gunman sprayed the crowd at the country music festival with gunfire during a performance by Jason Aldean, then shot himself as SWAT officers prepared to breach his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

The dead included a 42-year-old San Diego attorney, Jennifer Irvine. Several San Diego County residents are recovering from serious wounds.

Winston instructed nearby audience members to keep their heads down and get out of the area. He and Lewis helped numerous people climb over a fence.

He said he spotted a lot filled with work trucks and found one with a key.

"Once we were in it, we decided to go help get everyone out of there," Winston said. They drove back to the venue, where some friends were setting up a "makeshift hospital" away from the continuing gunfire.

They drove as many people as they could to a hospital, where staff helped unload the patients.

"Once we were clear, we just said let's go back for more," Winston said. "We went back for a second trip and filled (the truck) to the brim."

Tom McGrath told reporters that he and his wife were approached by a young woman soon after the shooting started.

"She'd taken a round to the chest. She was holding her chest, and I could see a large amount of blood come out," he said.

McGrath responded by tearing off his shirt and pressed it onto her wound.

"And I felt more hands go on top of mine ... from everywhere, trying to help me put pressure on this wound," he said. "And we were trying to lay her down. ... And while we were tying to get (security personnel's) attention and tending to her, the second round of (gunfire) came on, and I remember I just grabbed my wife ... and I just pulled her close to me, and I laid on top of her, and I tried putting her on top of the (wounded) girl, and still everybody had their hands on top of mine."

McGrath and his wife said they understand the young woman didn't survive.

He said he helped Tiffany and others scale a fence, then climbed over himself and realized he'd become separated from his wife. As he searched for her, he helped a man with a neck wound and applied a tourniquet to a woman's injured leg.

Verduzco said he applied a tourniquet for a wounded man and helped a woman who had been shot in a leg.

"It was really beautiful that in such terror, people were willing to step up (to help)," the officer said.

He, McGrath and Winston thanked the council members for the honor.