Loved ones and public safety officials gathered Tuesday to hear story after story outlining the courage of 49 Missouri public safety officials and four civilians who put their lives on the line to save others. Gov. Mike Parson proclaimed today as Missouri Public Safety Recognition Day. During ceremonies in Jefferson City and St. Louis, medals and awards were handed out one by one to honor the individuals who showed extraordinary acts of heroism in 2017.
Three individuals have been given Missouri’s highest award – the Medal of Valor.
Logan Benjamin, Vandalia Police Department in northeast Missouri – On June 19, 2017, Corp. Benjamin saved a suicidal man hanging from a support beam. Benjamin entered the residence and lifted the man to prevent him from certain strangulation.
The man repeatedly hit Benjamin in the head. Struggling to prop the man up, Benjamin’s portable radio microphone fell to the ground, preventing him from calling for backup. During the violent struggle, Benjamin managed to call for assistance and used his tactical knife to cut the belt the man was hanging from. As both men fell to the ground, the suicidal man went for Benjamin’s knife. Benjamin drew his pistol and told the man to stop trying to hurt himself and Benjamin.
The suicidal man complied and was transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. He remains alive and well today.
Michelle L. Vogel, Missouri Department of Corrections in northwest Missouri – On the night of Aug. 5, 2017, Corrections Officer Vogel rushed into a burning building in St. Joseph to rescue a four-year-old girl trapped inside. The fire happened to be in Vogel’s apartment complex and had spread throughout most of the first floor of the apartment.
Once Vogel saved the child, she sifted back through the thick smoke and intense heat and flames to make sure everyone else was out of the burning building. Vogel then helped the girl’s pregnant mother, who was outside having trouble breathing. Vogel later took children’s clothing to the family to assist them in the aftermath of the fire.
David Watkins, Jr., Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office in southeast Missouri – On March 10, 2017, a team from the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office was serving a search warrant to a convicted felon suspected of drug trafficking at an apartment in Wyatt. Lt. Watkins and the team announced their presence and broke into the apartment. The suspect immediately fired – striking Watkins in the left leg and trapping him in the apartment with the gunman. Other members were forced to take cover on the ground outside.
Unable to stand, Watkins crawled into a nearby room. The team called for Watkins, but he intentionally did not answer. Watkins did not want to give away his location to the gunman.
The shooter, still armed with an AR-15, walked to the front door to look for the other officers. He then turned to find Watkins – prompting the gunman to raise his weapon. Watkins fired his gun striking the man in the upper torso. Watkins then staggered to his feet and held the gunman at gunpoint until his team could take over.
Leon Whitener III, St. Louis Fire Department – On April 22, 2017, Capt. Whitener, who was off duty, charged into a burning residential building to save an elderly disabled woman trapped inside. Whitener charged into the two-story building and up the stairs without any protective gear.
He was followed by Raymond Rayford, a tenant from another unit in the building. Whitener knew time was short because the smoke was building pressure in the room. They pushed the wheelchair-bound woman to the apartment doorway but furniture blocked the exit. Rayford threw the furniture out of the apartment to clear a path. Whitener and Rayford then hoisted the wheelchair over the stair railing and down the stair, careful to protect the woman and make a safe exit.
Four individuals have been given Missouri’s Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award.
Raymond Rayford, nominated by the St. Louis Fire Department – Rayford was given the award for his selfless actions on April 22, 2017 that likely saved the lives of a disabled woman trapped inside a burning building and Captain Whitener’s.
Charles Barney and Sandra Straw, nominated by Missouri State Highway Patrol – On Feb. 7, 2017, Sandra Straw was driving along Interstate 70 in western Missouri’s Lafayette County when she noticed Trooper Beau Ryun struggling with a combative driver.
Straw called 911 and then got out of her vehicle. She sat on the suspect’s legs in an attempt to restrain him – prompting the man to kick Straw in the face.
The second motorist, Barney, retrieved the trooper’s handcuffs and used the trooper’s radio to communicate with law enforcement. Barney then helped to restrain the driver – allowing the trooper to reach and use his pepper spray on the driver. With their help, the trooper was able to arrest the driver.
Cary Stewart, nominated by West Plains Fire Department in southern Missouri – On April 28, 2017, Cary Stewart, a West Plains resident and member of the West Plains City Council, participated as a member of the West Plains Fire Department team that rescued 92 people from historic floodwaters. The flooding swept vehicles off roads, homes and buildings off their foundations and put many people at great risk.
Two law enforcement officers have been awarded the Public Safety Medal of Merit.
Ryan Windham, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop E – On March 6, 2017, Trooper Windham pulled over a motorist on Interstate 57 in Mississippi County for not having a front license plate. The driver refused to stop. A pursuit eventually ended when the driver slid off a roadway. A front seat passenger fled on foot. The backseat passenger exited and began firing his gun at Windham. Windham returned fire and moved toward the rear of his patrol car for cover. The suspect fired at least six rounds, three of which struck Windham’s vehicle, one hitting the vehicle’s spotlight, directly in front of Windham.
During a manhunt, all three occupants were arrested without incident. They were convicted felons and members of a violent gang with outstanding warrants.
Christopher Papineau, Columbia Police Department – On the evening of May 13, 2017, a Columbia police officer shot a gunman high on meth atop an event center. A graduation party was going on inside the event center and many residents were outdoors at a neighboring multi-story apartment complex.
Upon arriving to the scene, two officers were struck by the man’s shotgun pellets. A SWAT team was activated and attempted to negotiate with the man who said he wanted to kill or hurt officers.
The gunman was in a prone shooting position when a pedestrian walked into his field of fire. Officer Christopher Papineau fired a single shot to prevent the gunman from harming the pedestrian. The gunman fell from the roof and was pronounced dead.
Forty-one public safety officials have been awarded the Governor’s Medal, which is awarded to groups collectively working to resolve an emergency.
Shawn Bice, Chris Brockelbank, Jeremiah Jones, and M. Corbin Thompson, West Plains Fire Department and Christopher Kimes and Tyler Pond, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop G – On April 28, 2017, record flooding covered West Plains with more than 10 inches of rain falling in a matter of hours. Responders’ rescue boats capsized, were disabled or could not be used because of treacherous conditions.
A trailer park east of West Plains had quickly flooded, trapping residents. There were reports of a person having a heart attack and people on the roofs of trailers that were being swept away.
West Plains Firefighters Bice, Brockelbank, Jones and Thompson, and troopers Kimes and Pond, were determined to approach the trailer park from railroad track on utility terrain vehicles. They then cut through thick brush and waded across a field in chest-high water.
The four firefighters and two troopers rescued seven residents who had to be carried to safety through the flooded field, floating debris, heavy rain, lightning and other obstacles.
Chris Bell, Gary Brower, Matt Cockrum, Richie Hammon, Grant Sholes and Kurt Wilbanks, West Plains Fire Department – On April 28, 2017, a second team of six West Plains firefighters and one civilian rescued 92 people from potentially catastrophic flash flooding.
Hundreds of homes were taken over by floodwaters. Howell County 911 was overwhelmed with rescue calls. Swift water rescue boats were not available.
The team of Captain Wilbanks, Engineers Bell, Hammon and Sholes and Firefighters Brower and Cockrum, along with West Plains City Councilman Cary Stewart, proceeded in a firetruck, using a pike pole to find the roadway. They continued to improvise in terribly adverse conditions – outfitting a borrowed johnboat and single paddle with forcible entry tools and rope rigging.
Four patients were delivered to the hospital by boat. Those rescued included the elderly, injured, a homebound elderly woman on oxygen and about three dozen college students who on a dormitory roof.
Private Louis Bollasina, Private Paul Clark, Captain Larry Conley, Private Marquis Hayes, Captain Michael Hostetler, Private Joe Johnson, Private Tim Mahnken, Private Patrick O’Brien, Private Patrick Pollihan, Captain Bryan Radley, Private Dave Ray, Private James Reynolds, Private Jeff Ronshausen, Private Dale Schultz, Private Tim Schultz, Battalion Chief Gary Steffens, Private Galen Taylor, Private John Vallero, Captain Joe Waring, EMT Andrew Beasley, Paramedic Daniel Goldfeld, Paramedic Dustin Lammert, EMT Antuan Knox, Paramedic Supervisor Colin McCoy, Paramedic Cameron Morton, EMT Nicholas Spiess, EMT Norman Walker, Paramedic James Wilson and Fire Equipment Dispatcher Angela Williams, St. Louis Fire Department – Shortly before 2 a.m. on Jan. 24, 2017, the St. Louis Fire Department was dispatched to a two-story, two family flat in north St. Louis that was on fire with multiple people trapped. Multiple fire and EMS companies were dispatched to the scene with all of them made aware that a quick and coordinated search of the building was essential.
As firefighters climbed the stairs, they located the first victim on the stairs, unconscious and barely breathing. The victim was carried out of the burning building and resuscitated on the front lawn. Fighting high heat, flames and near zero visibility, firefighters conducting a coordinated search located another adult and five children on the burning second floor, all of them unconscious and in respiratory arrest. The victims were quickly removed from the building and revived.
St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson has said that in his 40 years in the fire service, he has never seen a more coordinated and heroic search and rescue with such a positive outcome.
Chief of Department David Hall (Retired), Springfield Fire Department – has received the Hall of Fame Award for his 34 years of service as a firefighter, fire chief, fire service educator and homeland security leader.
Hall began his career as a volunteer firefighter with the Mountain Grove Volunteer Fire Department in 1983, Hall moved to the Springfield Fire Department in 1989, where he was elevated to chief of the department in 2009 and retired in 2017.
Frank Mininni, Normandy Police Department, Chief of Police – has been awarded with the Director’s Leadership Medal. Col. Mininni became Normandy Police chief in 2009, after serving 22 years with the department and steadily rose through the ranks. His two decades of experience made him aware of the gulf that existed between law enforcement and many residents in the north St. Louis County community.
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