Off-duty Calif. LEO helps save man having heart attack

Officer Matt Denton was shopping at Home Depot when he jumped in to perform CPR and save a man's life

By Deke Farrow
The Modesto Bee

MODESTO, Calif. — It’s been a crazy year of “almosts” for Cris Ewell and her family.

She almost lost her mother, who got sepsis after knee surgery, she said.

The Modesto native, her Moscow-born husband of 20 years, Leonid Kasperovich, and their sons almost lost the tiny home they’re building in Tuolumne County when a wildfire reached within a mile of it.

And then, most jarring, Cris almost lost Leonid to a heart attack Thursday morning.

They were shopping in the lumber section at The Home Depot on Carpenter Road in Modesto that morning when he felt strange so reached up to grasp a shelf for support.

He missed and went crashing down on the ends of boards — “He bounced like a rag doll” his wife recalled — bloodying his face and losing consciousness. Curious shoppers began to gather, so Ewell waved them off, crying out for someone to call 911.

One man helped pull out Kasperovich, who was about waist deep into the horizontal lumber. They turned her husband onto his back, and then Ewell heard another man say, “I’m a policeman, I’m here to help,” she recalled.

That’s when off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Matt Denton stepped in to perform CPR on Kasperovich, who went from hyperventilating to not breathing for perhaps 20 seconds, Ewell said.

Kasperovich wasn’t breathing well at all when Denton stepped in. “I could hear a lot of fluid, I would assume that was the blood where you had hurt your face,” the officer said to Kasperovich when they met at the CHP office Tuesday morning.

‘You began to turn blue’

Denton turned the man on his side to clear the blood from his airway. But then he and Ewell could see Kasperovich had stopped breathing. “At that point you began to turn blue,” Denton told him.

The officer could feel no pulse. He waited perhaps six seconds to see if Kasperovich would breathe, and when he didn’t, Denton began chest compressions while Ewell did mouth-to-mouth.

Denton estimates they completed four or five cycles of CPR before medical personnel arrived. (A cycle is 30 chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths, according to the Mayo Clinic.) The EMS response was especially quick, the officer said, because Modesto Fire Department Station 4 is just a quarter mile away on Blue Gum Avenue.

Kasperovich was taken to a hospital, where he underwent surgery Friday to put three stents into blocked arteries. He was released Saturday and was feeling well enough Tuesday to reunite with Denton under much better circumstances.

“I do not know what would happen if you were not there,” Kasperovich told the officer.

“I can tell you,” Ewell quickly interjected, indicating that her husband would have been a goner. “His face was that color,” she said, pointing to Kasperovich’s bruised and swollen eye.

[READ: Off-duty Calif. deputy saves 3 ATV crash victims]

“For me, it was it wasn’t a police officer thing, it was a human thing,” Denton told the man he saved. “I have skills that could have helped you, and it turned out they did, so I was glad to do it.”

Officer’s calm guidance helped victim’s wife

Thursday was the seventh time Denton has had to perform CPR, but the first time in an off-duty situation. “He was really great in explaining to me what I needed to do because (Leonid) had blood all over his face, so there’s nobody who was going to give him mouth-to-mouth but me, right?” Ewell recalled. “The calm that he radiated really helped me know what to do, because the last time I learned CPR was in high school.”

CHP Modesto office spokesman Officer Thomas Olsen said Kasperovich was fortunate his wife and Denton teamed up to provide CPR. “Because regardless of your physical conditioning, CPR by yourself, it can be very wearing, with the emotions and so forth,” he said. Addressing Ewell, Olsen added, “Officer Denton giving you the proper instruction to work well and be efficient with your time was paramount.”


Great job Officer Denton of CHP - Modesto! CPR training can help you save a life. The American Red Cross continues to hold CPR classes statewide and we would like to encourage everyone to participate.

Posted by California Highway Patrol on Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Olsen urged the public to get training in CPR, which is available through the American Red Cross. Information on online and in-person classes is at

©2020 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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