Gov. Jay Nixon today presented the Missouri Medal of Valor to eight public safety officers from across the state for their exceptionally brave and heroic acts in efforts to save lives and protect the public during 2011. Among those honored today was the first Medal of Valor recipient to be killed in the line of duty and receive the award posthumously, Officer Daryl A. Hall of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Family members and the officers' colleagues were on hand for the presentation of Missouri's highest public safety award during a ceremony in the Governor's office in the Capitol. Gov. Nixon was joined at the ceremony by Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Lee.
"These eight brave officers, each of whom faced dangerous and threatening circumstances, acted without regard for their own safety and instead focused solely on protecting the public by responding swiftly and heroically," Gov. Nixon said. "In the case of Officer Hall, that selfless and steadfast dedication to ensuring the safety of others cost him his life. I thank all these outstanding officers for their extraordinary and heroic acts, which exemplify what the Medal of Valor stands for."
The newest Medal of Valor recipients are:
- Joseph G. Heath, St. John's Ambulance Service, and Jeffrey S. Elliot, Springfield Fire Department - On Jan. 15, 2011, fire crews and EMS were dispatched to a Springfield house fire as heavy black smoke poured out of the structure. A young woman raced to the responders, telling them her two daughters were trapped in a bedroom. Medic Heath immediately pulled himself into the burning structure through a broken out window. Despite the intense heat and thick smoke, and his lack of protective clothing or breathing apparatus, Heath was able to find one of the children and pass her through the window to safety. A battalion chief ordered Heath to exit the structure due to the increasing danger. Springfield Fire Department Rescue 1 had arrived on scene and was able to make entry to the house through the back door. Rescue Specialist Elliot entered the burning house and, despite the smoke and heat, was able to conduct a search and locate the second child, who was on the floor in the bedroom. Elliot cradled the child in his arms and carried her outside to awaiting medical personnel. Both girls were treated immediately for second and third-degree burns and survived.
- Thomas R. Bacon, Jr., Pattonville Fire Protection District - On April 22, 2011, Pvt. Bacon and other Pattonville Station #1 firefighters sighted a powerful EF-4 tornado bearing down on the station; firefighters were ordered to take cover in a storage closet inside the station. Bacon hesitated because he saw powerful winds blow a small sedan onto the firehouse ramp. The tornado's debris field was already swirling several hundred yards away; an electrical substation exploded across the street. Despite these life-threatening conditions, Bacon left his position of safety, fighting through the increasing winds to get to the car. He found a frightened husband, wife and three children, and directed them to the firehouse shelter area. Bacon grabbed the last of the children from the car and, fighting the fierce wind and debris, got the child inside as the storm threw him into the engine bay. There, the family took cover with Bacon and the firefighters already inside.
- Daryl A. Hall, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department - On April 24, 2011, Officer Hall was off-duty in a downtown St. Louis nightclub when he heard gunshots being fired outside. Hall ran outside to investigate and witnessed a gunman firing shots into the air near a group of people. Hall identified himself as a police officer and ordered the gunman to drop his weapon. The gunman then began firing at Hall, who returned fire, striking the gunman several times and killing him. Tragically, Hall was also shot and killed. Although off-duty and without time to call for help, Officer Hall, responded bravely and without hesitation to protect innocent bystanders.
- James C. Cooksey Jr., Missouri State Highway Patrol - On June 21, 2011, Trooper Cooksey responded when a sport utility vehicle ran off Route P into a flooded drainage ditch in New Madrid County. The SUV, submerged up to the luggage rack, was rapidly being swept downstream in St. John's Bayou. Cooksey joined two civilians attempting to reach the driver and free her from the vehicle. The swiftly moving water was murky, and submerged and floating debris posed additional hazards. Cooksey assisted the civilians in getting the victim out of the vehicle and then swam, pulling her toward the bank. Cooksey and another trooper performed CPR until an ambulance arrived. Unfortunately, despite the heroic efforts of Cooksey and the other men in the dangerous conditions, the victim did not survive.
- Robert C. Siscel, Sunset Hills Police Department - On Oct. 26, 2011, Detective Sgt. Siscel and Patrolman Dan Thompson responded to a 911 call about a home invasion/robbery then in progress. Siscel responded to the rear of the house, where he immediately identified a masked gunman holding an elderly woman hostage. Siscel alerted Thompson and, through the kitchen window, Thompson commanded the gunman to release the victim. The gunman released the woman but moved toward the family room. Siscel ran into the family room through the broken out glass sliding door as he identified himself as a police officer. The gunman entered the doorway between the kitchen and family room aiming his pistol at Siscel from a distance of 10 feet. Siscel ordered him to drop the gun. When he did not, Siscel had no alternative but to use deadly force; he fired a single shot, incapacitating the gunman, who was taken into custody. Soon after, other responding officers arrested a second gunman outside the residence.
- Curtis B. Bohanan II, Jefferson City Police Department, and Christopher J. Suchanek, Cole County Sheriff's Department - On Dec. 10, 2011, a high-speed pursuit of a man suspected of murdering two people in Dent County moved toward Jefferson City on Highway 50/63. Officer Bohanan positioned his patrol car as the second pursuit vehicle. As the pursuit continued in Jefferson City, spike strips were deployed and the suspect's vehicle struck the strips. Eventually, the suspect was forced to pull over and he entered the Capitol Plaza Hotel parking lot. Bohanan followed the suspect into the hotel lobby, where the suspect fired toward him. Bohanan was forced to return fire.
- Detective Suchanek was providing security for a private party at the hotel when he heard the disturbance occurring. Suchanek drew his service weapon and moved toward the sound of gunfire. Unable to see the gunman initially, Suchanek jumped a wall in the hotel's indoor courtyard, maneuvering until he spotted the suspect, who was raising his weapon to fire again. Suchanek shot the suspect, causing him to drop his weapon and fall to the floor. The two officers handcuffed the gunman, who had been struck by rounds from both officers' weapons. Their quick and brave actions ended the tremendous danger to hundreds of guests in the crowded hotel.
"Each time a public safety officer answers an emergency call they are not only putting their lives at risk, but also reaffirming their courageous commitment to protect their communities," Gov. Nixon said. "These eight officers faced very different emergency situations, but in each case they demonstrated bravery, dedication and the willingness to put their own lives on the line to save their fellow citizens. These are outstanding public safety officers and exceptional role models."
The Medal of Valor is awarded annually based on recommendations submitted by the Medal of Valor Review Board. Recipients must serve a public agency, with or without compensation, as a firefighter, law enforcement officer or emergency personnel. The nominating form states the Medal of Valor is awarded "to a public safety officer who has exhibited exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her own personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life."
Nominations are now open for acts performed during 2012 and must be received by March 31, 2013. The nominating form is available on the Missouri Department of Public Safety Web site at http://www.dps.mo.gov/documents/MedalofValorForm.pdf.