Alexandria's business community celebrated the courage of several public safety officials last week at the 19th annual Valor Awards. The event, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, gave awards to individuals who went above and beyond the call of duty.
The afternoon's most emotional moment came as the survivor of the Jan. 10 helicopter crash into the Potomac River appeared to personally thank the three firefighters who saved his life. Firefighter Kristina Earley received a gold medal, Captain Rodney Masser and Firefighter Thomas Wheatley each received a silver medal.
"From those of us who have stared up at your faces, reached to your hands for help, and you helped us in our time of need, let us bestow the honor of labeling each one of you hero. Own it in your heart, never in your head," said Jonathan Godfrey, who survived the crash with the help of Alexandria's firefighters. "Keep training, running routine calls, enduring sleepless nights, and living the long periods of boredom followed by the brief and intense rush of excitement. Each one of you became my hero that night. You gave me the chance to return to being a husband and a father."
Godfrey's appearance at the Valor Awards was one of several heroic tales, each of which were recounted to the assembled audience, which included several elected officials and candidates for upcoming election.
<bt>JAN. 23, 2004: A suicidal inmate at the Alexandria Detention Center wrapped a sheet around his neck, tying the other end to a mezzanine railing. As he jumped over the railing, Deputy Sheriff Anthony Calhoun radioed for help and grabbed the inmate's legs. Sergeant James Terry and Deputy Sheriff Scott Petrini arrived and grabbed the inmates arms — pulling him to safety and removing the sheet from around his neck. Calhoun received a certificate of valor; Petrini and Terry both received a lifesaving award.
<bt>MARCH 19, 2004: A suicidal inmate at the Alexandria Detention Center wrapped a sheet around his neck, tying the other end to mezzanine railing. As he attempted to jump, two other inmates restrained him. Deputy Sheriff Delnice Molaski radioed for help, and Deputy Sheriff Deborah Vaughn arrived on the scene. They were able to pull the inmate to safety and remove the sheet from around his neck. Molaski and Vaughn both received a bronze medal.
<bt>MARCH 20, 2004: Three officers were called to a report of domestic violence on Florence Drive. Outside of the apartment, the officers met the victim — a mother who said that the father, who was drunk, had struck their baby. Both the man and the baby were inside the apartment. The officers confronted the man, who was holding a knife. They persuaded him to drop the knife, and the man was arrested and accused of felonious assault and domestic violence. Officers Tara May, Kevin Jobe and Richard Harrell each received a silver medal.
<bt>APRIL 15, 2004: Several frantic calls reported an armed man who was shooting at people in the parking lot of Landmark Mall. One of the calls was from the man's estranged wife, who told officers that the man was on his way to the Bradlee Shopping Center. Three officers arrived at the shopping center and took cover behind the man, who held a cell phone with one hand and a gun in the other. The wife, who was on the phone with the man, told the police that he had agreed to unload the gun. After the announcement was made on the police radio, the man unloaded the gun and set it on the ground. He was arrested and brought to a hospital for a mental evaluation. Officers Steven Pagach and Francis Powers received a gold medal. Officer Monica Lisle received a certificate of valor.
<bt>APRIL 29, 2004: Officer Charles Seckler was enjoying a day off duty with a friend when he heard a car with a flat tire drive by. After the car with the flat lost control and crashed into a parked car, the driver took off running. Seckler followed the man into an alley, where the suspect hid in a dumpster. The officer flipped the lid of the dumpster and ordered the man to show his hands. The man in the dumpster said that he couldn't because he had been shot. When more officers arrived, they helped the man — who had been shot by an officer on South Washington Street after a carjacking — out of the dumpster. Officer Seckler received a bronze medal. The postscript: he is now engaged to the friend.
<bt>MAY 8, 2004: Officer Brian Fromm answered a domestic violence call on Raleigh Avenue, where an intoxicated man was threatening a woman and her baby. When the officer arrived, the man resisted arrest. During a struggle, the man took the officer's pepper spray and shot it into the officer's eyes. Fromm immediately felt the effects of the pepper spray: burning eyes, difficult breathing and clouded vision. Although his vision was impaired, he could tell the suspect was moving toward him. Fromm drew his weapon and ordered the man to stop, but he continued to move toward the officer. The man swung at Fromm, hitting the hand that held the gun. The officer fired the gun, killing the man, and called for assistance. Fromm received a gold medal.
<bt>SEPT. 16, 2004: Officer Todd Branson was enjoying a day off in Old Town when he noticed two men acting suspiciously. They were walking in the same direction, but at a distance from each other — both suspects frequently turned to look behind them in a way that made Branson suspicious. He called police communications and learned about a murder of the pizza delivery man. Branson followed the men provided updates on his cell phone. When other officers arrived, the suspects were arrested. The men were later indicted for murder. Branson received a silver medal.
<bt>DEC. 17, 2004: Five officers responded to a call from Edsall Road, where a man said his roommate was trying to commit suicide. When the officers arrived, they found the suicidal man naked in the shower with a knife lodged into his chest. He had been drinking all day, and he refused to cooperate with the officers. After 10 minutes of negotiations with Officer Mark Morgan, the man agreed to remove the weapon from his chest and hand it over. The 49-year-old man was taken to the hospital, where he received medical treatment and a mental examination. He later sent a letter to Morgan to thank him for his actions that day, which saved the man's life. Morgan received a bronze medal. Officers Terence Bridges, Lorenzo Hardy and Kevin Thomas each received a certificate of valor. Officer Jennifer Mogford received a lifesaving award.