It was going to be a special day and John Marciel had it all planned: He and his family would attend his eldest son’s high school graduation. Then they would relax at the Centerville Beach near Ferndale, California, about 260 miles north of San Francisco.
Saving a stranger’s life was not on the agenda.
Marciel, a Eureka resident and a member of AFSCME Local 1684, is a Humboldt County traffic control maintenance worker whose job is essential for driver safety: He paints the center lines and other safety markings on roads, installs reflective “rumble strips” that warn drivers when they’re leaving their lane and maintains traffic signs.
Marciel’s bravery – plus his familiarity with those traffic signs – is what saved the life of an 11-year-old child.
On June 16, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call stating that a child was being attacked by an adult on an isolated beach.
Marciel initially called 911 after the alleged assaulter said the child was having seizures. He had the presence of mind to look for a mile number embedded in a road sign – something he knew only through his work – to give the 911 operator the precise location.
Turns out, the woman claimed she was exorcising demons out of her 11-year-old daughter’s body by “viciously striking, biting and choking the child,” according a statement from the sheriff’s office.
“She started telling me how her daughter has demons,” Marciel recalled in an interview. “I was just keeping her pinned” when a sheriff’s deputy arrived “and put his knee into her chest.”
Marciel said his wife, Myra (also an AFSCME member), told him that his “fatherly instincts just overrode any inclination of not helping. It was just – I had to.”
Marciel grabbed the mother’s hand, which the deputy quickly handcuffed. Then, while deputies controlled the mother, Marciel assisted the child until emergency medical technicians arrived. The mother, Kimberly Felder, was charged with a number of crimes, including attempted homicide.
On July 6, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department honored Marciel with a Citizen’s Distinguished Service Medal and a certificate, which praised him as a “citizen hero.”
“I don’t see myself as a hero,” said Marciel, 39. “I was just doing the right thing.”
Local 1684 Pres. Brandon Sisk is certain that Marciel is a hero who embodies AFSCME’s Never Quit spirit.
“Few of us have the opportunity to rise to the level John did,” he said. “But he exemplifies what we’re trying to do in the community every day.”