Alexandria paused today to honor nearly two dozen heroes at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce 2013 Public Safety Valor Awards, presented by Inova Alexandria Hospital.
The Alexandria Police Department, Alexandria Fire Department and Alexandria Sheriff’s Office nominate Valor Award recipients in five categories: Gold Medal, the highest award for valor and heroism. Awarded in cases in which a public safety official knowingly places themselves at risk of death or extreme serious bodily harm in the performance of an official act; Silver Medal, the second highest award for valor and heroism. Awarded in situations when a public safety official exposes himself/herself to great personal risk in the performance of an official act; Bronze Medal, awarded in situations where, during the course of an emergency and at personal risk, a public safety official demonstrates judgment and ingenuity in the performance of his/her duties; Lifesaving Award, to be awarded in recognition of official acts taken in a life-threatening situation where an individual’s life is in jeopardy, either medically or physically; Certificate of Valor, for recognition as a public safety official, for action taken involving personal risk and/or demonstration of judgment in the performance of duty.
Eight members of the Alexandria Fire Department received medals for an incident that cost Medic II Joshua Weissman his life. He received a Gold Medal for his ultimate sacrifice. EMS Supervisor Kelsea Bonkowski accepted Weissman’s medal on behalf of his family. Bonkowski and six others received Silver Medals: Lieutenant David Bogozi, Firefighter Kenneth Salfelder, Firefighter Chizoba Okoli, Firefighter Stuart Smothers, Medic II Charlie Curia and Medic II Robert Honaker.
On Feb. 8, 2012, at 6:22 p.m., the Alexandria Fire Department was dispatched to a car fire on Southbound Interstate 395 between Seminary Road and Duke Street. Firefighters from Engine Companies 208 and Rescue Company 206 responded to the location. Medic 206, in which Paramedic Joshua A. Weissman was riding, waited at the traffic circle on Seminary Road for a report from firefighters. The dispatcher then reported that the incident was actually located near the Glebe Road exit on Northbound I-395 and there was a report of someone trapped in the burning vehicle. Medic 206, being the closest unit to the new location, headed North on I-395.
The evening was exceptionally dark due to low cloud cover accompanied by rain and ice. Medic 206 was the first to arrive at the scene. While other units continued to respond, Paramedic Weissman headed towards the burning car, which was in the HOV lanes of I-395, separate from the Northbound lanes. In the dimly lit surroundings, Paramedic Weissman climbed over what he believed to be a guardrail separating the two highways, not knowing that the railing was protecting an opening between two bridge spans. Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Paramedic Weissman fell 30 feet between the two bridge spans and into cold waters and rocky bottom of Four Mile Creek below.
As Rescue Company 206 arrived on the scene, Firefighter Ken Salfelder looked over the bridge to see if he could see where Paramedic Weissman may have fallen. Once he located Weissman, the firefighters drove to where he was seen. Lieutenant David Bogozi and Firefighters Stuart Smothers and Chizoba Okoli drove as far as they could, then grabbed their first aid equipment, a stokes basket and spine board. Lieutenant Bogozi was the first person to go under the bridge, but was unable to see Weissman in the dimly lit scene. Proceeding further into the darkness, Bogozi ran into the creek as he made his way towards Weissman. Not knowing the depth of the water and disregarding the fact that the water was rising from the evening storms, Bogozi decided to continue on without any safety harness attached to him. Finally, Bogozi found Weissman, who was unconscious and in critical condition.
The rest of Rescue 206 made their way down the rocky hillside, crossed the creek, and began assisting in rendering first aid to Weissman. Firefighter Salfelder brought additional equipment to the scene to aid the firefighters as they worked, then provided information to rescuers up on the bridge and directed their actions from below.
EMS Supervisor Kelsea Bonkoski arrived at Weissman’s location along with Paramedics Charlie Curia and Robert Honaker. Crossing the same rushing, rising creek waters in the dimly lit area under the I-395 overpass, they began to administer aggressive measures to treat Weissman. Aided by flashlights and a few beams of light shown down from above 27th Annual Public Safety Valor Awards 17 by firefighters, they worked both to extricate Weissman and provide direction to waiting paramedics up on the bridge. Despite the challenging environment, the paramedics were able to stabilize Weissman with the assistance of firefighters and prepared to move him.
The team decided they would carry Weissman in a stokes basket across the creek to a waiting ambulance. However, as Weissman was prepared to be moved the firefighters began to walk across the creek to the other side by the bike trail. Several members slipped and fell into the water, due to the build- up of silt on the rocks. They decided to carry Weissman downstream past two bridge bases. As they made their way to the second bridge base, Bogozi placed a long tree branch into the water to test the depth. He discovered the water level was too deep to cross. Their primary escape route cut off, the rescuers decided to use a ladder truck on top of the bridge to lift the stokes basket up to the interstate.
As the ladder truck readied a rope system to lift the stokes basket, Paramedics Curia and Honnaker and Firefighters Smothers and Okoli continued to provide advanced life support measures. Once the basket was hoisted up to the highway above, Weissman was loaded into a waiting ambulance and transported to Washington Hospital Center.
The extraordinary efforts by the all those involved allowed Weissman to survive the incident and provide an opportunity for his family to gather with him before he succumb to his injuries the next day. He made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty attempting to rescue a trapped person in a burning vehicle.
Alexandria Police Officer Peter Laboy sustained a catastrophic gunshot wound to his head while he was attempting to apprehend a suspect in Old Town on Feb. 27, 2013. Although he is still recovering from that injury, he attended today’s ceremony to accept a Silver Medal for his heroism during a 2012 incident. Alexandria Police Officer Anthony Gorham received a Bronze Medal for his heroism in the same incident.
On Oct. 4, 2012, officers were dispatched for reports of a suicidal subject with a gun. Officers Peter Laboy and Anthony Gorham simultaneously arrived on scene. They met with the subject’s girlfriend, who was parked across the street from the residence.
Officer Laboy had just begun talking with the girlfriend when he noticed a white male walk out from behind a vehicle parked in the driveway of the house where the incident was taking place. He entered the house, and the girlfriend tried to run after him, but stopped when the subject exited the house with a gun pointed at his head. Officer Gorham quickly grabbed the girlfriend and moved her to cover behind a nearby vehicle.
Officer Laboy took cover behind a nearby vehicle and attempted to communicate with the subject. Unresponsive, the subject continued to walk down the driveway toward him. Officer Laboy continued to attempt to get the subject’s attention. The subject dropped to his knees in the driveway with the gun pointed at his head. He was screaming and crying. Officer Laboy continued to try to get his attention; however, the girlfriend’s screaming making it difficult.
The subject got up and walked to the middle of the street while holding the gun to his head. By this time, Officer Gorham was able to get the girlfriend to stop screaming, so Officer Laboy was able to negotiate with the subject’s full attention. He told the subject he was there to help and attempted to convince him to put the gun down. After thirty tense minutes, the subject put the gun down and pushed it away at Officer Laboy’s direction. Officer Laboy was the able to approach the subject and take him into custody. He was then transported to Inova Alexandria Hospital for a mental evaluation.
Officer Jesse Meekins: Silver Medal
Officer Frank McGrigg: Bronze Medal
Officer Frank Powers: Bronze Medal
On Nov. 22, 2012, officers responded to an apartment for the report of a suicidal subject. Being the first to arrive, Officer Jesse Meekins approached the apartment. He noticed the door was open and a struggle was going on inside. Feeling like he could not wait for back up, Officer Meekins entered the apartment and found the subject’s wife who said her husband was in the bedroom holding a gun in his mouth.
The officer began talking with the subject from outside the bedroom. By this time, Officer Frank McGrigg had arrived. Together, he and Officer Meekins moved towards the bedroom, where they saw the subject sitting on the edge of the bed holding a gun. As Officer Meekins continued to talk with the subject, he noticed the subject was wearing a U.S. Army baseball cap and engaged him in conversation about their similar military backgrounds in an effort to calm him. The subject repeatedly stated that he was in severe pain and wanted to kill himself.
Officer Frank Powers arrived with a shield. The other officers took cover behind the shield and continued to talk with the subject. As they talked to the subject, they were able to calm him down by advising him they were there to help and would not shoot him. Once he was calmed, Officer Powers approached him and took the gun from him. The subject, who had numerous medical ailments, was taken to Inova Alexandria Hospital for a mental evaluation.
Officer Kevin Jobe: Bronze Medal
On the morning of Sept. 2, officers were dispatched to the 3500 block of Trinity Drive for the report of a drunk and agitated subject in a residence and his parents wanted him removed. The subject had a history of mental problems.
Officer Kevin Jobe was the first to arrive on scene. He spoke with the subject’s father who stated his son was very intoxicated and had threatened to harm any police officers who responded to speak to him about his mental health. The father said his son had been heavily drinking for several days. He had spoken with him that morning about going to detox or moving out at which point the subject had become threatening. The subject stated he wouldn’t go quietly and to tell the police he had weapons and to wear body armor. He threatened to kill his father if he called police. The subject’s mother called police as the subject retreated to his bedroom where he had a number of weapons.
Officer Jobe called out to the subject and moved towards his bedroom. Using his Crisis Intervention Team training, he continued to engage the subject and asked him to come out of his room. The subject complied and appeared at the top of the stairs showing his empty hands. He was jumpy and very intoxicated. After five minutes of negotiations, the subject agreed to come down as long as he would not be handcuffed. He showed the officer he was unarmed and came down the stairs. Officer Jobe took the subject to the living room and continued to talk with him. He eventually agreed to go to the hospital for evaluation. The subject was transported to Inova Alexandria Hospital for a mental evaluation.
It was later determined that the subject had fifteen assorted rifles and two handguns in his bedroom. All were fully loaded. Two of the weapons were located right next to the door, giving the subject immediate access to them. Further investigation also revealed that the subject had previously been involved in a barricade situation with law enforcement in North Carolina.
Deputy Sheriff Brian Bell: Life Saving Award
At 11:40 p.m. on April 15, 2012, Deputy Sheriff Brian Bell left the William G. Truesdale Detention Center after working an off-duty detail.
Deputy Bell took the entrance ramp to travel Northbound to Interstate 495/95. As he drove up the ramp, he noticed a person wearing dark pants and an orange hoodie standing on the shoulder of the overpass gazing at the traffic below. Deputy Bell immediately pulled over and called dispatch to advise them of the situation.
While exiting the vehicle, Deputy Bell observed a Metro Van pull up to the area where the woman was standing. She appeared to become increasingly agitated as she engaged in a conversation with someone in the van. The woman moved to straddle the other side of the overpass, half her body above the southbound lanes of I-495/95.
Deputy Bell hurried towards the woman and began speaking to her in an attempt to calm her down. He continued to speak to her until Alexandria police officers arrived to assist him.
While Deputy Bell distracted the woman, one of the police officers maneuvered himself behind the woman, grabbed her and placed her on the pavement of the overpass.
The woman was transported to Inova Alexandria Hospital for a mental evaluation.
Due to Deputy Bell’s observation and quick actions, the woman survived to get the help she needed.
Investigator Bret McCabe: Life Saving Award
On August 1, Detective Nick Lion and Investigator Bret McCabe were in Los Angeles to extradite a suspect to Alexandria. Detective Lion and Investigator McCabe went to a restaurant to have dinner. They were preparing to place their orders when a woman came in and asked if anyone knew CPR.
Investigator McCabe told her that he did. Both officers immediately were led to an outside dining area where they saw an elderly woman on the floor. She appeared blue and lifeless. They could find no evidence of a pulse or other vital signs.
Investigator McCabe directed bystanders to call 911. Believing the woman may have choked, he pulled her up from the ground and attempted the Heimlich maneuver. The woman did not respond. Investigator McCabe continued to attempt the Heimlich maneuver numerous times with no results. Detective Lion took over and also tried the Heimlich. The woman remained unresponsive.
Investigator McCabe suggested they start CPR. Detective Lion moved the woman back to the ground. A bystander, under Investigator McCabe’s direction, began chest compressions while he provided rescue breaths. An off duty Emergency Room Technician came onto the patio and took over chest compression while Investigator McCabe continued providing rescue breaths. They continued CPR for two minutes before the woman suddenly coughed.
She began breathing and the officers could detect a weak pulse. The team continued CPR until medics arrived. The medics stabilized the woman and transported her to a local hospital. The medics told the officers that she had a good pulse and was breathing on her own.
Detective Lion and Investigator McCabe later learned that a piece of food had passed from the woman’s trachea directly into a lung. This had caused her to stop breathing. They also received the good news that she was expected to recover.
Officer Nicolette Clara: Life Saving Award
Officer Tony Moore: Life Saving Award
On Oct. 25, 2012, officers responded to the unit block of Bragg Street for a warrant service call. A probation officer reported that a parolee had removed his personal GPS monitoring device. The subject had failed a polygraph earlier in the day and stated he wasn’t going back to jail. A felony probation warrant had been obtained for the suspect and police assistance was requested to take the suspect into custody.
Upon arrival, Officers Tony Moore, Jeetpal Panesar, Jeremiah Weiss, Nicolette Clara and Marcelo Carvajal could hear running water coming from inside the hotel room. Given the circumstances, they decided that immediate entry into the subject’s hotel room was necessary. Using a room key was provided from the front desk, officers discovered the subject had barricaded the front door. Officer Clara forced the door open while the other officers entered and cleared the residence.
Upon entering the room, they located the subject in the bathtub submerged in water. He was unresponsive and had no vital signs. Medics were immediately notified. The officers quickly removed the subject from the bathtub and began to perform CPR. Officer Moore again checked for vitals. He began to perform chest compressions while Officer Clara placed his head in a recovery position to clear water from his airways and assisted with CPR. After a series of chest compressions and rescue breathing, the officers were able to revive the subject. Medics arrived a short time later and transported the subject to Inova Alexandria Hospital. It was later determined he had attempted suicide through overdose and self-drowning.
Officer Carl Stowe: Life Saving Award
Officer Misti Battle: Life Saving Award
On Jan. 29, 2012, officers were called to an apartment in the 300 block of Yoakum Parkway for the report of a possible deceased person. The caller stated he came home and found her unconscious. He believed she was dead. As officers responded, Officer Misti Battle, who was working that evening in the Department of Emergency Communications Dispatch Center, gave the victim’s boyfriend CPR instructions over the phone.
Officer Carl Stowe and Officer Bruce Maynard arrived on scene. As the officers approached the apartment, they observed the door ajar. Officer Stowe called out to the occupants and entered the apartment. The victim’s boyfriend came towards the officers and Officer Maynard began talking to him to find out what happened.
Officer Stowe approached the victim. She was lying on the floor unconscious. She was pale and her extremities were blue. Immediately, Officer Stowe began administering CPR. The victim remained unresponsive. He continued to perform CPR until the Alexandria Fire Department arrived minutes later. Very shortly after, the victim was resuscitated, although with an extremely weak pulse. She was stable enough to transport to Inova Alexandria Hospital where she was placed on life support.
Although, the victim was in very critical condition, had it not been for the Officer Stowe continuing to perform CPR until medics arrived she likely would have died.
Officer Douglass Serven II: Certificate of Valor
On July 23, 2012, officers responded to the 5300 block of Duke Street for reports of a domestic violence incident at an 8th floor apartment. Upon arrival, Sergeant Nicholas Ruggiero and Officers Douglass Serven and Willie Moses spoke with the suspect’s wife and three children. Suddenly, there was a loud, hissing noise. The wife told the officers that her husband was releasing propane gas then ran with her children ran towards a stairwell to leave the building.
As the officers approached the apartment, the smell grew stronger. Officer Serven radioed for additional units and the Fire Department to respond. A witness approached Officer Serven and told him the suspect had fled down a stairwell. Officer Serven ran into the stairwell and down four floors, but did not see or hear anything. He returned to the 8th floor to assist with the evacuation.
During the evacuation, a man got off the elevator. A nearby witness told Officer Severn that the man was the suspect, so he took the suspect into custody. After being placed against a wall and told not to move, the suspect grew increasingly hostile and tried to turn, saying that the officers would need to shoot him by the end of the night. After attempting to head-butt Officer Serven, the officer spun him around and placed him on the ground while other officers assisted in getting him under control. They put him in a cruiser to transport him to the Adult Detention Center.
During the drive, the suspect said he was going to hang himself. Officer Serven looked back and saw that he had wrapped the seatbelt around his neck, so he immediately stopped the car and removed the seatbelt from the suspect’s neck. After a third attempt, the officer noticed the suspect was beginning to be successful in his attempts. His breathing had slowed and his appeared to be losing consciousness. Medics were called immediately. While waiting for medics, the suspect became agitated and spit on Officer Serven before being transported to Inova Alexandria Hospital for a mental evaluation.