Courage Under Fire

Courage Under Fire

Valor Awards honor Alexandriaís fearless heroes.

Mortal danger is an occupational hazard for many city employees. For these workers, who protect the public's safety around the clock, thinking quickly can mean the difference between life and death. Once a year, the city pays tribute to the selflessness that they display every day on the beat.

For 20 years, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce has been celebrating the fearlessness of the city's sheriffs, police and firefighters. Each year, the chamber hosts a lunch where the stories of heroism are recounted and awards are presented. Elected leaders mingle with public-safety officials and business leaders over lunch, paying tribute to the courageous acts that are performed on a regular basis in the city.

"This is for our heroes," said Lonnie Rich, chairman of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce last week, as the awards ceremony began at the Mark Hilton. "It's our honor to recognize the men and woman who provide invaluable service to this city."

The emotional highlight of this year's ceremony came at the end, when a posthumous gold medal was awarded to Officer James Feltis. He was killed during a carjacking last year, and his wife accepted the award on behalf of her late husband.

"James stepped in front of that car to save a life," said Mary Feltis. "Just like all the officers standing behind me, he didn't hesitate."

As each award was presented, the host of the event recounted individual acts of valor that were being recognized by the chamber. Many of the stories involved quick thinking, selfless action and stubborn bravery in the face of danger. The men and women honored at the award ceremony put their own security aside to protect the safety of others. These are their stories:

JAN. 11, 2005: Responding to reports of a carjacking on North Henry Street, Officer Martin Hoffmaster began following a stolen car through Del Ray. Other officers responded to assist, and the chase continued onto Interstate 395 toward the Pentagon.

While the stolen car was on an Interstate on ramp, Officer James Feltis attempted to stop the car while his partner turned to alter oncoming traffic. The man in the car struck Feltis and kept going. Eventually, Officer Hoffmaster was able to pin the car against the guardrail — ending the chase.

Officers Patrick Lennon, Anton Keith and Terri Mucci joined in to help arrest the suspect, but he was fiercely combative. While struggling against the officers, the man grabbed a gun from Hoffmaster’s holster and fired several shots. The officers continued struggling with the armed man, who was eventually restrained and arrested.

Feltis was critically injured during the incident, succumbing to his injuries a month later.

Feltis received a posthumous gold medal; Hoffmaster received a gold medal; Keith received a silver medal; Lennon received a silver medal; and Mucci received a silver medal.

JAN. 23, 2005: Officer Angle Semidey arrived on the scene of a domestic dispute between two men. One of the men was suicidal and pointed a knife at himself, asking police to shoot him because he wanted to die.

Semidy ordered the man to drop the knife, and he complied. But it was inches away — still within dangerous proximity to the unpredictable man. He tackled the suicidal man, pinning him against the wall with a spare mattress. The man later received a mental evaluation and treatment for a cut he sustained that day.

Semidy received a bronze medal.

FEB 9, 2005: Deputy Sheriff George Gray stopped by a convenience store on South Whiting Street on his way home from work. Before entering, he could see a shoplifting in progress through the windows of the store. He entered the store to confront the man, who resisted with Gray with violence — punching and kicking his way free.

The man fled the store, and Gray followed close behind. Once again, Gray confronted with man — and once again, he kicked and punched his way free.

After another chase, Gray tacked the man in the common area of Crestview Apartments. He held the man down until backup could arrive. Later, police determined that the man was in possession of stolen material from the convenience store and marijuana. He was arrested and charged with five separate criminal violations against a law-enforcement officer.

Gray received a bronze medal.

FEB. 18, 2005: Officer Brunilda Cofresi-Toro arrived at the scene of a domestic dispute, where a man told police that his brother had threatened to start a fire. While driving through the neighborhood, Confresi-Toro saw fire coming from a nearby home. She then saw a man who had been burned arguing with two other people.

Confresi-Toro parked her cruiser and entered the burning building to rescue anyone who may have been inside, shouting into the thick smoke. When she did not hear a response, she decided that the building was empty and left.

Police later learned that the brother had set fire to his bedroom, severely burning himself in the process. He was charged with arson.

Confresi-Toro received a certificate of valor.

APRIL 27, 2005: As part of a federal task force, Assistant Fire Marshal Robert Luckett spent years trying to catch a deadly arsonist. After months of surveillance, Luckett was ordered to make the arrest in a Maryland parking lot. The arrest went down without violence or resistance.

The suspect eventually confessed setting more than 300 fires since the 1970s, killing two people and injuring scores of others. He was later sentenced to 130 years in prison.

Luckett received a certificate of valor.

MAY 28, 2005: Officer Gregg Ladislaw and Officer Shawn Quigley were patrolling the George Washington Parkway on their bicycles when they responded to a report of a naked man running through the area. They quickly found the man in a heavily wooded area and tried to entice him to come out.

Officer Anthony Gorham joined Ladislaw and Quigley, who made their way into the brush. The man was extremely combative, and he tried to bite the officers. The three officers were eventually able to arrest the man, who was later found guilty of a murder that happened earlier that day.

Gorham, Ladislaw and Quigley each received a bronze medal.

JULY 12, 2005: Deputy Sheriff Dexter Mason and Deputy Sheriff Tianna Crockett were on duty at the Alexandria Detention Center. About 6 p.m., they responded to a report that one of the inmates was trying to kill herself.When they arrived, they saw that a woman prisoner was trying to stab herself with a pen.

Mason and Crockett entered the cell to confront the inmate, who turned toward the deputies. Mason shot pepper spray at the woman, and Crockett escorted her to the jail’s medical section. The woman continued to struggle, violently resisting deputies who were trying to help her.

Mason received a certificate of valor; Crockett received a lifesaving award.

JULY 30, 2005: Officer Welton Barnes and Officer Burke Brownfeld were on Van Dorn Street when they were approached by a woman who had blood on her clothes and a cut to hear ear. She told officers that her adult daughter had assaulted her.

They followed her to her apartment, where they confronted the daughter. Inside the apartment, the daughter grabbed a knife and lunged at Barnes — who pushed a medic to safety and grabbed his gun. The two officers moved a couch to create a barrier between themselves and the knife-wielding woman.

Several other officers arrived and tried to subdue the woman. She was eventually disabled with a Sage gun, which fired a less-than-lethal round at the woman. She was then handcuffed and charged for assault.

Barnes received a bronze medal and Brownfeld received a bronze medal.

SEPT. 2, 2005: Detective Venus Roman was looking for burglars in Old Town when she saw a teenager using a flashlight to look into parked cars. She called for backup and then began to question the young man.

While she was searching his bag, Officer Sean Casey, Officer Brad Cecchetti and Officer Mark Petersen arrived on the scene. Unexpectedly, the boy punched Petersen in the face. Then he pulled a knife from his waistband and began slashing the officers before running from the scene.

Roman, Petersen and Casey had each been stabbed by the teenager, who was found a few hours later hiding in a nearby alleyway.

Roman received a silver medal; Petersen received a silver medal; Casey received a bronze medal; Cecchetti received a bronze medal.

SEPT. 28, 2005: Deputy Sheriff Monique Edwards and Deputy Sheriff Raymond Veney were on duty at the Alexandria Detention Center when they learned that one of the inmates was trying to kill himself. His neck was wrapped with a sheet, which had been tied to a light fixture in the cell.

Edwards and Veney entered the cell, untied the inmate and administered first aid to the inmate. He was lethargic and unresponsive, but clearly alive.

Edwards received the lifesaving award; Veney received the lifesaving award.