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'He deserves it, he's a hero': Phoenix man posthumously honored with Carnegie medal award

Roberto Longoria, 42, died during a work-related hazmat incident at a truck wash in Avondale in 2021. The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awarded him a medal.

PHOENIX — Roberto Longoria is a hero.

The 42-year-old died while trying to save the life of his friend and coworker Jose Perez, 32, during a work-related hazmat incident at a truck wash in Avondale in August 2021.

Two years later, he was posthumously recognized for his bravery by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. His loved ones talked to 12News for the first time since Longoria was recognized.

“For him to be acknowledged like this, it’s just wonderful,” said Isabel Rodriguez, Longoria’s mother. “It’s overwhelming. I can’t even express it. He always lived like that, if you needed help, he would always be right there. This recognizes his kindness.”

Like his mother, Jennifer Jones was emotional about his fiancé’s recognition.

“He deserves it,” she said. “It’s amazing. He’s loved, he knows it, and he’s a hero.”

Credit: Jennifer Jones
Roberto Longoria at work and with his granddaughter.

Fateful day

It was right before 1 p.m. on Aug. 29, when Avondale police responded to a hazmat call at Danny’s Truck Wash at 925 N. 101st Ave.

The initial report indicated two employees, later identified as Jose Perez and Roberto Longoria, were unconscious inside a trailer tank, parked in the garage.

Investigators would learn, Perez had entered the chemical tanker trailer to fix a drainage issue. But seconds after entering, he became unresponsive.

That’s when Longoria walked up next to the vehicle and saw Perez wasn’t moving.

He grabbed a respirator mask, called 911, and handed the phone to the driver of the truck, who took over the call.

Longoria entered the tanker. But he too became unconscious.

Hours later, first responders were able to safely remove their bodies from the tanker.

Credit: Jennifer Jones
Roberto Longoria and Jose Perez enjoyed a day at the lake, months before they both died.

The two men never made it to the hospital. They were pronounced dead at the scene from their exposure to toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, which authorities later determined was present in the trailer even after the interior had been cleaned.

Honoring a hero

At Roberto Longoria’s final resting site, his ultimate sacrifice has been engraved on his gravestone.

The words “True Hero” were placed on top of his picture.

“He deserves it,” Jones said. “I’m proud that he got to receive something like this award.”

The Carnegie Medal is an honor “given throughout the U.S. and Canada to those who enter extreme danger while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.”

The medal is considered North America’s highest civilian honor for heroism, the organization said.

Credit: Jennifer Jones/Isabel Rodriguez
Isabel Rodriguez with her son Roberto Longoria (left). Jennifer Jones and fiancé (right).

State Senator Kyrsten Sinema sent Jones a personal note expressing her condolences and offering any assistance. 

"While I'm sure the past two years have been an incredibly difficult time for you, I hope that you have found comfort in your community, coming together to celebrate Roberto's selflessness, bravery, and the profound impact he's had on the lives of so many," read a portion of the letter.

“I’m very proud,” said Destiny Gonzales, Jones's niece. “He didn’t have to go in there, most people probably wouldn’t have, but he did, for his best friend.”

Longoria is remembered as a loving, fun, and caring person, who loved to dance and spend time with family at the lake.

The 42-year-old’s pit bull, Junior, still waits for his owner to come home, the family said.

Credit: Jennifer Jones
Roberto Longoria with his dog, Junior.

“Jose was a good guy too,” Jones said. “He was a good friend. I knew him too. They got along pretty well. But he would have done it for anybody. He would do it for a stranger if he had to, that’s the kind of person he was.”

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