Originally published March 20, 2010
Ernest Luzania, a Carmichael resident and retired Secret Service agent who helped protect President Gerald Ford from harm, including a 1975 assassination attempt in Sacramento, died March 13 of complications related to infection. He was 76.
Mr. Luzania spent 22 years in the Secret Service. He worked in field offices in New York, Los Angeles, Fresno and San Antonio, Texas, before he was assigned to the personal security detail for Vice President Ford and continued to serve him as president.
"He traveled everywhere the president went, including China, " said his daughter, Letitia Dehart. "He was an eyewitness to history."
Mr. Luzania was in Sacramento on Sept. 5, 1975, as Ford walked to the Capitol to meet with state lawmakers. As the president shook hands with crowds of supporters along the way, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a follower of mass murderer Charles Manson, pointed a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol at the president and pulled the trigger. The gun did not fire.
A widely circulated Associated Press photo showed Mr. Luzania in dark sunglasses, grabbing Ford from behind to pull him out of harm's way. Other agents wrested the pistol from Fromme and pulled her to the ground.
"He said he just did what he had to do, " said his wife, Tina. "He said, 'You have to protect the president, no matter what. That's your job.' "
Mr. Luzania, who received a commendation for his actions during Fromme's assassination attempt, was away when Ford faced another failed attack on his life 17 days later by Sara Jane Moore in San Francisco. He served the president until Ford left office in 1977.
He worked in Oklahoma City and was named to head the agency's Sacramento office in 1980. He retired from the Secret Service in 1984.
Mr. Luzania was born in 1933 in Santa Ana. He served in the Army and earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Fresno State University before joining the Secret Service in 1962. He earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Oklahoma.
He married his wife in 1958. They attended a White House Christmas party hosted by the Fords, who also invited the couple's children for a good-bye party before leaving office.
"The president was a very easygoing guy with the agents, " his wife said. "Ernie really respected him."
Mr. Luzania worked for the state Department of Consumer Affairs before retiring in 1987. He loved traveling with his wife to many countries in Asia and Europe and taking family vacations with the couple's five adult children and their families.
He often shared fascinating stories about his general experiences in the Secret Service. But he never revealed confidential information or intimate details about what he saw or heard while protecting the president or other government leaders, his family said.
"We were always very proud of our dad, " Dehart said. "When we were kids, we'd always see him in the paper, standing next to the president. He had a wonderful life."
Ernest Luzania Born: July 14, 1933 Died: March 13, 2010 Survived by: Wife, Tina of Carmichael; sons, Randy of Kansas City, Kan., and Sean of Portland, Ore.; daughters, Letitia Dehart and Janine Luzania, both of Tulsa, Okla., and Michelle Luzania Maksymowicz of Colorado Springs, Colo.; brothers, Gus of San Antonio, Texas, and Freddie of Anaheim Hills; sisters, Peggy Macias of Anaheim Hills, Stella Beltran of Santa Ana, Vera Nevarez of Orange, and Alice Varela of Buena Park; and seven grandchildren Services: Memorial Mass, 11 a.m. today at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 5751 Locust Ave., Carmichael
Call The Bee's Robert D. Davila, (916) 321-1077.