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Man who pulled toddler from Montecito mud tells his story on ‘Ellen’

Talk show host and Montecito resident Ellen DeGeneres spoke with Augie Johnson, the man who pulled 2-year-old Ian Benitez from the mud during the floods on Jan. 9, 2018.
Talk show host and Montecito resident Ellen DeGeneres spoke with Augie Johnson, the man who pulled 2-year-old Ian Benitez from the mud during the floods on Jan. 9, 2018.

The man who helped pull 2-year-old Ian Benitez from mud during the Montecito mudslides told his story on Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime TV show Tuesday.

Augie Johnson, who lost his home in the mudslides, described to DeGeneres the events that led him to pull Benitez from the muck. The segment, which was posted to DeGeneres’ online channel Tuesday morning, will air on NBC at 4 p.m. Pacific time.

The toddler that Johnson helped save was carried nearly a mile from where he was last seen, according to the Los Angeles Times. Four of the toddler’s family members died in the mudslides: his 28-year-old mother, Faviola Benitez Calderon; his 10-year-old brother, Jonathan Benitez; as well as his 3-year-old cousin, Kaily Benitez, and Kaily’s mother, 27-year-old Marilyn Ramos.

Johnson told DeGeneres that he and a fire captain were making their way toward the home of one of Johnson’s neighbors when they “heard this little voice out of this mud flat.”

“Once the firemen heard that and realized it was a child, everyone jumped in,” Johnson said, and the fire captain eventually pulled the toddler out.

Johnson has since started raising money for the Benitez family, he told DeGeneres.

“I just feel that boy is special, and I’d love to see him go to college, anything we can do for that family,” Johnson said. “He was in that mud and muck and debris for over an hour and still survived. That’s one tough little boy right there.”

The segment concluded with DeGeneres announcing that Walmart was donating $50,000 in Johnson’s name to help victims of the mudslides.

In recent weeks, DeGeneres has continually raised awareness for Montecito victims on her show. She shared an emotional moment with Oprah via FaceTime, and Rob Lowe appeared on DeGeneres’ show to discuss the mudslides. In a taped segment for the show, Lowe drove around the impacted area with Santa Barbara County Fire public information officer Dave Zaniboni.

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF

Actor Jeff Bridges recounts in an interview what it felt like when he first heard mud and debris sliding past his Montecito home in the early hours of Jan. 9, 2018. He and his family were later rescued by helicopter.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department rescued a 14-year-old girl who had been trapped for hours in a destroyed home on the 300 block of Hot Springs Road in Montecito, after an intense California storm pummeled the area with rain, flooding and m

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