It was cold, the earliest morning hours of a Tuesday last February, when Herndon police officer Ed Stapleton, his cruiser parked on Crestview Drive as he looked over paperwork, was forced to spring into action.
All it took was a slight glance upward to notice the van, hurdling down Herndon Parkway at what was well over the posted speed limit, barely making a stop at a traffic signal, the tires screeching on the cold late-winter pavement. When the light turned green, the van took off — and so did Stapleton.
"People see chases on those TV shows sometimes, and I remember that running through my mind, that this was like one of those pursuits," Stapleton said. "It was a real intense moment."
The van blew a tire, but refused to pull over, maintaining a high rate of speed down Herndon Parkway and into a neighborhood, hitting speeds between 45 and 70 mph as the van careened through turns on its bare rims, according to police records. When the van finally stopped, Stapleton joined with Herndon police officers Brian Hamilton and Justin Dyer and Det. Lisa Kara to initiate a high-risk apprehension of the suspect when he saw something.
"As I opened the door to get out of the car, I noticed he had all of a sudden put on his reverse lights," Stapleton said, "and that's when I knew he wasn't planning on getting out of the car."
The van slammed in reverse into two of the cruisers and then hit a snow bank, but the driver still wasn't done. He jumped from the van and attempted to evade arrest on foot. Unable to get away from the officers, the intoxicated driver was captured, and after a struggle forced the officers to use pepper spray, was brought into custody, Stapleton said.
The man was found to be in violation of several laws including possession of false documentation and driving under the influence and had multiple outstanding warrants for his arrest in Prince William County, according to Stapleton.
When an officer is in a pursuit like this, "what you think about is the safety of the citizens and the community," Stapleton said. "It was late at night, but you never know if anyone could be out walking home ... and this guy puts them at a risk of getting hurt."
IT WAS THIS INCIDENT that Stapleton, about one year later, would be recognized, alongside Hamilton, Kara and Dyer, with a certificate of valor from the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce's 29th annual Valor Awards, held March 1 to honor county police and fire officials for service in the line of duty.
And the four police officers were not the only recipients of the awards from Herndon. Herndon police Lt. Jerry Keys and police officers Robert Galpin and Damien Austin, were awarded with the "Lifesaving Award" for their participation in safely bringing a suicidal man back from the edge after threatening to cut his throat with a broken bottle in downtown Herndon last March. After attempting to talk the man down, the officers used a Taser gun to immobilize the man and bring him under control, according to officers and police records.
This year's awards was the largest showing of Herndon Police officers in the ceremony to date, according to Keys, who is also the department's public information officer.
"I think it's an ongoing commitment to recognize that at the end of the day there's very little recognition for these people who put their lives on the line for the county on a regular basis," said Bill Lecos, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "It's a matter of bringing it to the forefront of everyone's attention, when everyday heroics are part of the job ... it kind of becomes taken for granted."
The awards are greatly appreciated but hardly surprising to Herndon Town Council member Connie Hutchinson.
"I think we have a stellar police department in Herndon that we are very proud of," Hutchinson said. "All of our officers are extremely well-trained, dedicated and highly committed to their work ... and I think that this is a testament to that."
WHILE THE AWARDS are given for valor and excellence in the line of duty, it just means another successful day on the job, according to Galpin.
"It feels good to get recognized ... you hear it all the time, people saying that it's just a part of doing the job, but it is," Galpin said. "Everyday, you're expected to go out there and keep the community safe. That's what you do as a police officer."
Keys agreed, adding that he the vast majority of officers he knows hardly get into the law enforcement business for the awards.
"It's definitely a good thing to get the Herndon Police Department name in there and we're appreciative, but things like this, we have to deal with them everyday," Keys said. "We got into this job to help people, not for the awards and recognition. When you sign on as a police officer, you sign on to do good for the community."
And good deeds don't always get noticed, Galpin said.
"There are a lot of other officers out there that do this stuff also and just by luck of the draw, we were the ones chosen for these awards," he said. "For us, sometimes it's just knowing that you did your job well that's the biggest reward."
The best thing about both of the resolutions of the incidents is not the eventual awards, but that nobody got seriously hurt, Stapleton said.
"Whenever you're out there, you just want to resolve a situation where nobody gets seriously hurt," he said. "And in this situation it was just good to get this bad guy off the street before he hurt somebody."
"That's really all you want as a police officer."