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'Makeover' Brings Cops' House Down, Builds It Again
One in an occasional series.
October 15, 2006
Source: Brent Hopkins
Staff Writer, Daily News
REDONDO BEACH -- The workers came early, armed with buckets and shovels, laboring hard for a pair of cops and a baby most had never met.
On a quiet suburban street Saturday, the blue-shirted crew members of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" gave up their weekend for no added pay, no special perks. They hauled wheelbarrows and revved engines, united in their goal to build a new home for wheelchair-using Los Angeles Police Department Officer Kristina Ripatti and her family. Ripatti, who carries a bullet in her spine after a gunfight with a robbery suspect four months ago, had spent her nights sleeping separately from her husband, fellow Officer Tim Pearce, and 20-month-old daughter, Jordan.
Under ominous, black storm clouds and a deadline that crams nine months of work into less than a week, the workers made over the tiny home that had kept the paralyzed cop, athlete and mother apart from her family.
"It's all been a string of miracles," said Michael Moloney, the program's interior designer in charge of the common areas. "If the other officers hadn't gotten there when they did, if she hadn't been so fit, she wouldn't be alive today. We just want to continue that string."
Wednesday, the show sent the family to Cabo San Lucas for a surfing vacation. On Friday, a squad of LAPD SWAT officers planted explosives within the 1950s-era, two-bedroom house and blew it apart.
Saturday, the crew laid a new foundation with the goal of having the entire thing erected within five days.
The program took an interest in Ripatti after community members mailed newspaper stories about her injury and quest to walk again to producers. LAPD Chief William Bratton personally called to implore them to lend a hand.
By last week, they had 700 volunteers, donated materials and permits to go to work.
"It sure was a relief for Tim," said Officer Scotty Stevens, Pearce's partner. "He was practicing his jumping up and down before they showed up so he didn't look too weird on TV. Now they can finally have a home that Kristina and Jordan can be comfortable in."
And so on Saturday, the dirt lot that remained after Friday's demolition slowly became a house. A huge pump laid down concrete through a long, snaking arm. Workers lugged debris, periodically breaking into cheers as they reached new milestones.
Once it's complete, they hope to have erected a place that incorporates the family's love of surfing and other outdoor sports, access to the bedrooms for Ripatti and wider entrances that allow her to move easily from room to room.
"When we found out who the family was, everyone just pulled a little bit harder," said Chad Mayer, director of ShareFest, a coalition of churches and nonprofit groups that helped put the team together.
"We've got subcontractors out here who'd normally be competing against one another and they're all working together."
Cornerstone Construction Group Inc., a longtime family-owned Redondo Beach contractor, oversaw the program. The company worked with ShareFest previously on a lengthy volunteer restoration project, but nothing as ambitious as its current task.
As company employees and subcontractors scurried about, the scene took on the air of an Old West barn-raising. Few stood idle as the house began to take shape.
"It's an honor to me to work on this," said Linda Braden, Cornerstone's president. "Having a family like this that's done so much. They put their lives on the line for the rest of us."
Ripatti consistently eschews such praise, saying she was merely doing her job and that the risk of injury comes along with police work.
But the crew members don't seem to believe her.
"They're amazing people. When you meet her, you just want to be her friend right away," said Paige Hemmis, a Porter Ranch-based carpenter and designer for the program.
"We want to make her life like everyone else's again. We want her to have a bed she can share with her husband."
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