Right place at the right time
Custody Deputy Christopher Martinez was waiting to transport an inmate to see a medical professional Monday afternoon at the Santa Barbara County Jail when another inmate approached him and appeared to be disoriented.
The inmate appeared to be scrambling and had a piece of bread in his left hand. Using his right hand, the inmate pointed to his throat which immediately tipped off Custody Deputy Martinez that something was wrong.
“He had a gasped expression and right away I recognized he was choking,” he told the News-Press.
Custody Deputy Martinez called for backup and began performing the Heimlich maneuver. He completed five abdominal thrusts before additional personnel responded. He then moved the inmate to the hallway, which gave him more space, and conducted three more thrusts and was able to clear the obstruction. The inmate then began breathing and speaking on his own.
Custody Deputy Martinez, who was celebrating his 31st birthday Monday, said he had never used the Heimlich before but has used other measures to prevent people from choking.
He joked that the bread the inmate was choking on is known to be quite dry.
“From having tried it myself, that is a very dry bread,” he said.
Custody Deputy Martinez has been with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office for more than four years. He said that he has received a ton of feedback from his colleagues, as well as family and friends, who have congratulated him on helping save the man’s life.
“It means a lot,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is that the inmate thanked me and was gracious.”
The inmate wasn’t choking for long, but Custody Deputy Martinez said he knew he had to act quickly.
“I didn’t think about it all, I just did it,” he recalled. “I went to the skills I know and have been trained on and it ended up being beneficial.”
Custody Deputy Martinez said he intends on checking on the inmate when he returns to work.
“It feels great,” he added. “All too often we do great things in our facility and nobody ever hears about it. To have this go public and for people to see a fraction of what we do each day is a really great thing.”