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Korean-American deputy heroically rescues neighbors from deadly home fire

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After a fire erupted in a La Cañada Korean-American home on January 30, claiming the life of 67-year-old Jacob Seong, the actions of Korean-American Deputy Joyce Lee and her team in saving Seong’s wife and nephew have been highly commended.

In particular, Deputy Joyce Lee, a 10-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), was the first to spot the fire spreading from Seong’s single-story home and called 911. Officer Lee, accompanied by her mother, Suzy Lee, who is in her 60s, rushed into the burning home. At the same time, Lee called 911. Her efforts saved the lives of Seong’s wife and nephew.

Seong, who was reportedly in the living room at the time of the fire, was found unconscious and died after more than 40 minutes of CPR attempts by Fire Department rescuers.

Deputy Joyce Lee, a 10-year veteran of the LASD, and her body camera as she and her fellow officers rescue a family from their burning home. [Courtesy of LASD]
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department released body cam footage on January 31, showing the deputy and three of her fellow deputies arriving at the scene during the fire.

The bodycam footage reveals the tense moment when Lee and Deputies Christopher Fort, Mitchell Laudano, and Eduardo Olmos rescued Seong’s wife and nephew. The nephew was staying in a semi-basement room until Fire Department rescuers arrived. The officers broke a first-floor bedroom window to facilitate the rescue. They helped Seong’s frightened wife to safely climb out of the window as toxic smoke filled the bedroom.

The deputy left for work around 4 a.m. on the day of the fire and noticed the single-story home ablaze. The deputy lives across the street and is a long-time friend of Seong’s only daughter.

“I could see flames coming from inside the house, and all I could think about was saving people,” Lee recounted to the Korea Daily. “I called 911 and collaborated with other deputies and Fire Department rescuers until they arrived.”

Deputy Joyce Lee

Currently, Deputy Joyce Lee serves at the Los Angeles County Jail. Her husband, also a Sheriff’s Department deputy, arrived off-duty shortly after the fire started and assisted in extinguishing the blaze. “My wife was scared when she saw the fire, but she responded very bravely,” he said during an interview with the Korea Daily, choosing to remain anonymous. “I’m very proud of her, especially since we have a 1-year-old daughter, for her role in saving our neighbors’ lives.”

Suzy Lee, the deputy’s mother, also participated in the rescue effort. “My daughter has always wanted to be a police officer,” she shared. “I did what I had to do when she told me about the fire. I went to the house and kept knocking on the door but got no response. My heart is heavy because I couldn’t save our kind neighbor, Jacob Seong.”

On January 31 at 6 p.m., neighbors convened in Seong’s yard to honor his memory. The following day, Seong’s nephew gave a statement to a sheriff’s deputy but declined media interviews.

On the same day, family members collected personal items from the fire scene, grappling with their grief. “Seong’s wife is still hospitalized, and we are preparing for his funeral,” a family member disclosed. Seong, who worked in various industries, is survived by his daughter and two adopted Korean-American daughters.

A neighbor mentioned that the family had recently renovated their home. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department.

BY HYOUNGJAE KIM, JUNHAN PARK    [kim.ian@koreadaily.com]