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The Morning Call

'Guardian Angel' Thanked With Honor

Scholarship named for Bethlehem detective who helped families

By Manuel Gamiz Jr.

June 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Morning Call. All rights reserved. 

Esther Guzman wanted to cry when she started reading a newspaper story about a Bethlehem detective who helped save two toddlers from a burning South Side row home in late February.

She didn't have to read the entire story. She knew who the detective was.

 …Bethlehem Police Detective Mark Diluzio was transporting a witness to a court hearing when he passed by the smoking home. He ran inside where he discovered a burning room that felt ''like 1,000 degrees inside.''

''He's the kind of man who will risk his life and go the extra mile to help someone,'' said Guzman, who works and lives in Hackettstown, N.J.

Guzman wanted to do something special to honor Diluzio for saving the two toddlers — and for saving her family a decade earlier.

She set up a $500 scholarship to honor ''guardian angels'' in the community, and the first Sgt. Detective Mark Diluzio Scholarship Award was given to graduating Freedom High School student Jonathan Ramirez last week.

''This is something else,'' Diluzio, 43, said during the Bethlehem Area School District's Minority Senior Awards ceremony. ''I thought only people who died have scholarships named after them.''

Guzman met Diluzio 11 years ago when he was a third-year patrolman working Bethlehem's South Side.

On Sept. 10, 1992, Diluzio answered a domestic violence call on Columbia Street. The victim told a 911 dispatcher that her husband was hitting her. When Diluzio arrived, he talked to the suspect, Angel Pereira, his wife, Guzman, and their two children.

After investigating, he arrested Pereira and told Guzman, who had arrived from Puerto Rico the week before and spoke almost no English, that she and her two sons were safe.

After that, Diluzio, with children of his own, regularly checked on Guzman's family during patrols.

He would scold Pereira about destroying the family and warn him that if he continued abusing drugs and alcohol he would end up in prison or dead. Diluzio's biggest concern was Pereira and Guzman's children, Angel Jr. and Francisco, then 13 and 11.

Diluzio said he would tell them not to follow in their father's footsteps — stay in school, stay away from the streets, earn respect and become successful.

''He did so much for us,'' Guzman said. ''He didn't have to do what he did, but that's Mark Diluzio. He doesn't give up on anyone.''

Diluzio helped Guzman land a job with the welfare department in Easton, and showed her how to take the bus to work.

A year after the domestic violence call, Diluzio moved to undercover narcotics and an investigation revealed Pereira was a dealer, he said.

He arrested Pereira twice more: in June 1993 and in December 1993. The second arrest sent Pereira to state prison, where he got sick and began failing from hepatitis B and C. Guzman went to St. Luke's Hospital, Fountain Hill, to see Pereira on his deathbed. Pereira told his wife he was sorry about everything and told her to tell Detective Diluzio that he was right, she recalled.

He also told her to thank Diluzio for helping his family. Pereira died waiting for a liver transplant in 1995.

''You're our guardian angel,'' Guzman, now 49, told Diluzio during the scholarship ceremony. ''You've always been our guardian angel.''

Guzman has kept in touch with Diluzio and often writes him to let him know how her boys are doing.

Guzman went to college and is now an assistant vice president and community relations officer with United Trust Bank in New Jersey. She has worked for years helping residents of Bethlehem's South Side.

Her children, Angel Jr., now 23, and Francisco, now 21, are completing their education at Temple University. Angel Jr. is pursuing a master's degree in anthropology and Francisco is a junior studying to be a doctor.

Diluzio's instincts to run into a burning building on Feb. 27 to help two toddlers and their uncle escape are typical of the kind of person the detective is, Guzman said.

It was a cold morning when Diluzio passed the smoking house at 1015 Mechanic St. as he was driving a witness to a court hearing.

He ran inside and found Edward Robles, 28, covered in soot. Diluzio helped Robles, his 11/2-year-old nephew, Justin, his 3-year-old niece, Nena, and the family's dog out of the house. Two nearby car mechanics helped.

When emergency crews arrived, Diluzio left and took the witness to the hearing.

Police Commissioner Francis Donchez said honoring Diluzio with the scholarship is well-deserved.

Diluzio's approach to detective work is unique, Donchez said.

''He treats people he arrests like people and not criminals. He does not use a … bullying approach, which most people think of when they think of detectives.''

Diluzio, a quiet man, has a 21-year-old son and two daughters, ages 13 and 9.

''As a cop, you have to enjoy helping people. When something like this happens, it reminds you why you became a cop.''

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