By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR staff photographer
Two California State Prison, Sacramento, Correctional Officers received the highest honor the state can bestow on its employees. They joined other recipients from various agencies on May 23 at the California Highway Patrol Academy for the Governor’s State Employee Medal of Valor Ceremony.
Officers Jaymi Appleberry and Mike Johnson received gold awards, presented by Cabinet Secretary Keely Bosler on behalf of Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
Other recipients are employed by California Highway Patrol, CAL FIRE, Parks and Recreation, Fish and Wildlife, Military and Caltrans.
“This was an awesome event,” said CSP-Sacramento Warden David Baughman. “I’m especially proud of our two officers. They represent CDCR’s bravery.”
California Department of Human Resources Director Richard Gillihan greeted the crowd.
“Since the program began in 1959, 591 state employees have received Medals of Valor. Today, we add 22 more names to that prestigious list,” he said. “Each awardee we are recognizing this afternoon went above and beyond the call of duty to save others and, although all were very aware of the dangers involved, they did not hesitate. It is a privilege for me to be here today, at this ceremony, as we acknowledge their actions and service to the people of California.”
CDCR was the first department recognized.
“I am very proud to be a part of today’s ceremony as we honor our state heroes,” said Undersecretary Ralph Diaz.
Helping present the awards alongside Cabinet Secretary Bosler was Kathleen Allison, CDCR’s Director of the Division of Adult Institutions.
“On September 22, 2015, at 2:15 a.m., off-duty Correctional Officer Jaymi Appleberry returned to her apartment with a friend. After Officer Appleberry pulled into a parking spot, the friend got out on the passenger side, and saw a man armed with a pistol walking toward her. The friend jumped back into the car and tried to lock the door. The armed man opened the passenger door and put a gun to her friend’s head. He also pointed the gun at Officer Appleberry,” said Undersecretary Diaz.
Officer Appleberry struggled with the assailant, who fired the gun near Officer Appleberry’s head. But she was able to get the gun away from the assailant.
“Officer Appleberry credits her CDCR self-defense training for helping her survive,” said Undersecretary Diaz.
Read more about Officer Appleberry from last year’s CDCR Medal of Valor ceremony, http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/2016/09/governor-hundreds-turn-out-to-honor-cdcrs-finest/
Undersecretary Diaz introduced Officer Johnson, who was also recognized during last year’s CDCR Medal of Valor ceremony.
“On Feb. 1, 2015 at 10:26 a.m., Correctional Officer Mike Johnson was on his way home from work when he came across a two-car crash that left one vehicle on fire. Officer Johnson and a Marina police officer rescued a woman from the burning vehicle by carrying her to safety just before the vehicle became fully engulfed in flames. Officer Johnson also moved another victim, who was on the ground nearby, to safety,” Diaz said. “The victims’ family was left financially strapped to pay for medical bills. Officer Johnson is helping the victims’ family raise money for their medical care. With no regard for his own safety, Correctional Officer Johnson’s heroic act saved two car crash victims from a flaming vehicle.”
Read more about Officer Johnson, http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/2015/06/months-after-rescue-correctional-officer-still-helping-family/
(Details provided by award ceremony organizers.)
Steve Gallegos, retired Division Chief (gold)
Gallegos was at Puerto Rico’s Playa Mar Chiquita relaxing with his family and celebrating his birthday in December 2015. The beach surrounds a small semicircular cove with a small opening to the sea. The surf that day was significant, with strong currents and waves crashing through the opening in the rocks. Mr. Gallegos, along with his son-in-law, observed a small of group of people taking photos atop a rocky peninsula near the mouth of the small cove. Within a few moments, two exceptionally large waves struck the rocks in succession, knocking three of the four individuals into the water.
With three victims, two women and a man, struggling in dangerous sea conditions, Mr. Gallegos’ son-in-law entered the water and was able to reach one of the women. Upon noticing the severe distress of the other woman, Mr. Gallegos realized he would be her only chance to survive. He jumped into the water and was immediately struck by a large swell that threw him against the rocks and pushed him underwater. Once he recovered, he swam to retrieve a boogie board and met up with his son-in-law and the first woman. Mr. Gallegos remained with the first woman while his son-in-law retrieved the other, who was barely coherent. Mr. Gallegos kept both victims afloat with the board while his son-in-law retrieved a life ring, which was thrown to the endangered man. They all remained in the water for an extensive amount of time, until a Coast Guard helicopter and police department boat were able to reach the group. The two women were airlifted to the hospital. Mr. Gallegos, his son-in-law, and the male victim were safely brought on board the police boat. All three victims made full recoveries.
With no regard for his own safety, retired Division Chief Gallegos’s heroic act saved the lives of three potential drowning victims.
Steven Van Heertum, Fire Captain (gold)
On June 7, 2016, Van Heertum’s shift ended and as he traveled toward Ramona, in rural San Diego County, he witnessed two vehicles collide head-on and spin away from each other, surrounded by a cloud of dust, smoke and shattered glass.
As the vehicles came to rest on opposite sides of the road, one of the vehicle’s engine compartments was engulfed in flames. Captain Van Heertum ran to the driver of the vehicle to find a semi-conscious young man trapped by the crumpled dashboard. Captain Van Heertum ran back to his truck, made an attempt to hail dispatch on his radio, and grabbed his fire extinguisher and his firefighting Nomex jacket. Disregarding his own personal well-being, he covered the young man with the jacket and emptied his extinguisher but the fire continued.
At this point, both lanes of traffic had stopped and multiple vehicles were parked in the roadway. Captain Van Heertum searched for more fire extinguishers among the cars, collecting three more, but still to no avail. Running out of options, he once again ran through the stopped vehicles and located a hydro-seeding vehicle with a small tank and powered pump. He directed the operator to move closer to the scene and turn on the pump. Using the spray nozzle, Captain Van Heertum was able to successfully extinguish the fire.
After the flames were out, Captain Van Heertum returned to his vehicle to retrieve his personal medical kit and began to render first aid to the trapped young man until the first fire engines arrived. He remained with the young survivor to continue his care through the extrication process.
The young man is alive today, due to Captain Van Heertum’s efforts. With no regard for his own safety, his heroic act saved the life of a car crash victim.
Fish & Wildlife
Michael Dilts, Officer (silver)
On July 27, 2016, Fish and Wildlife Officer Michael Dilts was on patrol near the San Gabriel River in Seal Beach when he was flagged down by a man and child. The man told Officer Dilts that a woman had just driven her vehicle into the water and was drowning. Officer Dilts drove his patrol vehicle to the west bank of the river where he found a purple van floating in the water approximately 25 yards from the shore, with a woman in the front seating area. The van was semi-submerged, with all of the windows above the surface. The woman shouted, “Go away, I don’t want to be saved.”
Two men entered the water and began swimming towards the van. Officer Dilts radioed for assistance, and, anticipating the need to enter the water, he removed his duty belt and secured it in his vehicle. When he turned back around he found the two men had reached the van, which was now submerged to the point that only the rear trunk of the vehicle was above the surface. Officer Dilts entered the water in full uniform, boots and bullet-proof vest, and swam to the van. The woman was now in the trunk area of the van. Upon reaching the victim, Officer Dilts performed an “active drowning victim rescue,” by reaching under the victim’s armpits and grasping her shoulders. With the assistance of one of the other men, he then pulled her away from the sinking van. When they were 10 yards away, the van sank completely.
Officer Dilts and the two civilians, at great personal risk to themselves, saved the victim’s life and prevented her from drowning. Although unwilling, the victim was safely removed from the vehicle and assisted to shore.
With no regard for his own safety, Officer Dilts’ heroic service saved a woman from drowning in the San Gabriel River.
Chad Edwards, Game Warden (silver)
On Sept. 15, 2014, a brush fire was ignited on the outskirts of Weed by an arsonist. In only a few hours, the fire, fanned by 40 mph winds, spread into town where it burned more than 150 homes, the lumber mill, several churches, and other structures.
Warden Edwards heard the radio traffic regarding the fire and immediately responded to the area. He started evacuating homes as flames ripped up the hill and into the neighborhood. Warden Edwards immediately began transporting people in the bed of his truck, and flagged down other evacuees with empty seats in their cars to help shuttle people out. He frantically worked to help a family out of their home while the houses next door and down the street were burning. During this time, Warden Edwards suddenly heard a loud roaring sound and looked up in time to see an air tanker flying overhead, dropping a load of retardant. Warden Edwards made it into his patrol truck just in time, as the retardant drop covered his vehicle. Retardant drops hit Warden Edward’s patrol vehicle on two more occasions that afternoon.
At one point Warden Edwards noticed an elderly woman on her front porch and he stopped to ask if she needed help. The woman said that she did not have a vehicle, and her family was cut off by the fire and could not get to her. Warden Edwards gathered the woman and her dog, and took them to safety.
During the evacuations, Warden Edwards noticed a Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department patrol car parked in the driveway of a residence in the burning neighborhood. Warden Edwards had dispatch contact the Deputy, who said his dog was in the house. The Deputy told Warden Edwards that if it looked like the house was going to burn, to do whatever he needed to get his dog out. The house next door was on fire, so Warden Edwards kicked in the door and grabbed the dog to take it to safety.
By making trip after trip into the burning neighborhood to evacuate and rescue stranded citizens, Warden Edwards acted with bravery that afternoon that was clearly above and beyond that expected in the line of duty. Amazingly, no lives were lost in the fire, and it is without doubt that Warden Edwards’ actions were a large part of that outcome.
Caltrans and California Highway Patrol
James Anderson, Equipment Operator II (silver)
Kenneth Meyers, Equipment Operator (silver)
Rodney Walker, Maintenance Supervisor of Department of Transportation (silver)
CHP Officers Kevin Maniord and Andrew Murrill (silver)
On Jan. 29, 2016, it was very wet and rainy, when a pickup truck struck a guardrail on westbound Interstate 80, left the roadway, overturned, and rolled down the steep embankment, landing upside down in Canyon Creek below. A Caltrans sand truck saw the incident and put out a call for help. Caltrans Equipment Operator II James Anderson was nearby and arrived at the scene along with California Highway Patrol officers Andrew Murrill and Kevin Maniord. They saw the driver outside of the truck yelling that a female passenger was still trapped inside.
Without hesitation, the three men descended a steep rocky embankment and waded across approximately 20 feet of waist deep, swift moving, icy cold water, to the trapped woman’s location. They observed the trapped woman to be nearly unresponsive, bleeding profusely, confused, and exhibiting signs of hypothermia. Mr. Anderson cut her seat belt, and with great effort, while struggling against the strong current, Officers Murrill and Maniord, and Mr. Anderson extricated the woman from the vehicle and began to carry her across the creek. As they carried her across the creek, Mr. Anderson lost his footing on the rocky creek bed, fell into the water, and began to travel downstream.
Caltrans Equipment Operator Kenneth Myers arrived on the embankment in time to grab Mr. Anderson’s belt, stopping the officers, Mr. Anderson and woman from being carried off down the creek and into a several hundred foot long culvert pipe taking the rushing water underneath the highway. Caltrans Maintenance Supervisor Rodney Walker arrived, climbed down the embankment, and assisted the group with lifting the panicked woman out of the water and carrying her up the very steep embankment to wait for the ambulance. The officers covered the woman in a blanket and placed her in the rear of a CHP vehicle. The officers provided medical treatment to the woman until relieved by CAL FIRE personnel. As a result of the traffic collision, the woman suffered from hypothermia, a fractured right rib, and lacerations to her left leg and right arm.
With no regard for their own safety, the heroic service of these individuals helped save the life of a woman who was in danger of succumbing to her injuries and drowning in Canyon Creek.
California Highway Patrol
Kerry Comphel, Officer (silver)
Jason Hughes, Officer (silver)
On April 26, 2016, Officer Kerry Comphel, was on patrol with his partner, Officer Jason Hughes, when they responded to a woman sitting with her legs hanging over the railing of an overpass bridge. As the officers approached the woman, she stood up on top of the bridge railing, so they stopped their approach and engaged her in conversation. The officers were able to convince the woman to step down from the railing. They slowly moved closer to her while asking her to move away from the railing, but she backed away from them and began looking over the edge. Officer Hughes and his partner determined that the woman intended to jump and quickly coordinated a plan to stop her. The officers rushed towards her just as she jumped head first over the railing.
As her body cleared the bridge railing, Officer Hughes grabbed onto her sweater and arm while Officer Comphel grabbed her other arm. The woman actively fought against the officers and yelled at them to let her go. Officers Comphel and Hughes struggled to bring her back over the railing as she hooked her feet to a freeway sign. Although both officers were at great risk of being pulled over the three foot high railing, they refused to let go as she dangled precariously above the road and vehicular traffic below. Once additional backup arrived, everyone helped to bring the woman back over the bridge railing.
With no regard for their own safety, Officers Comphel and Hughes’ heroic service saved a woman from committing suicide.
Daryl Hansen, Officer (silver)
Timothy Montoya, Officer (silver)
On April 13, 2015, Officer Timothy Montoya was on patrol with his partner, Officer Daryl Hansen, when they responded to a call of a vehicle on fire on an off ramp in the city of Santa Ana. Upon Officer Hansen and Officer Montoya’s arrival at the off ramp, they observed the vehicle engulfed in flames under a tree. Officer Hansen approached the vehicle and observed a man lying on the ground a few feet from the vehicle, with a toddler walking around him. Officer Hansen immediately moved toward the vehicle and observed a woman slumped forward in the front right passenger seat, her face badly bloodied, with numerous major lacerations. Officer Montoya attempted to open the driver side door, but the door was inoperable due to damage sustained during the collision. Officer Hansen made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the woman from the vehicle as the flames continued to grow.
Officers Montoya and Hansen were able to grasp the woman and began to pull her through the open driver side window, despite the increasing heat and dangerously close flames. While removing her, Officer Montoya heard the sound of a crying baby from within the vehicle and stopped assisting Officer Hansen to investigate. Officer Montoya located a baby on the floor behind the driver seat, and removed her from the vehicle while Officer Hansen continued his attempt to remove the woman, utilizing all of his strength and energy. Officer Hansen was finally able to free the woman from the vehicle and pull her through the driver side window, placing her on the ground near the man and toddler. At this time, the surrounding brush and trees began to burn around the victims and officers.
Finally, additional officers responded to the scene and assisted Officers Hansen and Montoya with moving the victims from the burning area to a safe location where medical aid could be provided.
With no regard for their own safety, Officers Hansen and Montoya’s heroic service saved an infant and mother from their burning vehicle.
David Robles, Sergeant (gold)
On Dec. 6, 2015, Sgt. Robles was on patrol in the city of Santa Ana when a speeding vehicle passed him. He pursued, with the vehicle accelerating to approximately 120 mph before exiting the interstate. The vehicle lost control, collided with a retaining wall and a wooden telephone pole, and immediately went up in flames.
Sgt. Robles exited his patrol vehicle and approached the driver’s side to check the welfare of the driver. He saw that all of the occupants of the vehicle were unconscious and unresponsive. He attempted to open the driver’s door, but could not because of the collision damage. He ran to the passenger side, but was unable to open the passenger door as well. Sgt. Robles utilized his flashlight to break the front right passenger window to try to extricate the front right passenger. Before he could get to the passenger, the fire intensified, forcing him to retrieve a fire extinguisher from his patrol vehicle. The fire continued to rage, despite his use of the extinguisher.
Several local police officers arrived on scene. The additional officers utilized their fire extinguishers, but they too were unable to extinguish the flames. Sgt. Robles and a Garden Grove Police Officer moved to the driver’s side door of the vehicle and extricated the driver through the window despite the intense heat and fire. Immediately thereafter, Sgt. Robles and a Garden Grove Police Corporal moved to the passenger side and extricated the front right passenger through the window.
The sergeant and the police officers attempted to rescue what they believed to be the one remaining passenger; however, the intensity of the heat and flames, coupled with the collision damage, limited their access to the rear occupant. Ultimately, Sgt. Robles and the officers were forced to move away from the vehicle as the flames and heat overpowered them. Once the local police officers extinguished the fire, it was discovered that there were two remaining occupants in the rear seat. One occupant had succumbed to his injuries; the other occupant survived with major injuries.
Christopher Swanberg, Officer (silver)
On February 2, 2016, Officer Swanberg, responded to a call in the Fresno area of a pedestrian who appeared to be suicidal. When he arrived, the man was standing barefoot atop the concrete bridge rail bordering the east side of State Route 41, making statements that he wanted to die. His position atop the railing placed him directly over the westbound traffic lanes of Herndon Avenue. Officer Swanberg engaged the individual in dialogue to build rapport and gain trust. As Officer Swanberg continued to communicate with him, he feigned difficulty hearing, which allowed him to strategically decrease the distance between the two.
While talking, the individual swayed back and forth, lost his balance, and fell backward, landing on the freeway side of the bridge rail. The individual immediately scrambled to his feet and lunged towards the bridge rail, but Officer Swanberg rushed forward and grabbed him. The individual struggled fiercely to break free from Officer Swanberg’s grasp by deliberately pulling away, flailing his arms and spinning around, bringing them both closer to the rail. Officer Swanberg was unable to keep the individual from moving back to the rail and swinging his left leg over. Officer Swanberg continued to hold him, while the individual pushed with his right leg and pulled with his arms in an attempt to break free and fall to the roadway below. Officer Swanberg exerted all of his energy to keep both of them from going over the rail. Eventually, with the assistance of two passing motorists, Officer Swanberg was able to pull the individual back over the rail where he was placed into custody and transported by ambulance to a psychiatric facility.
Dean Rouse, California Highway Maintenance Leadworker (silver)
On Dec. 20, 2015, Caltrans District 2 Dispatch received a call from CHP requesting response to a vehicle that had slid off an embankment on Highway 395, just past Bowman Road, and was upside down in the Pit River. As Caltrans Maintenance Leadworker Dean Rouse arrived upon the accident site, he noticed several people assisting in the rescue of the person driving the vehicle. Mr. Rouse noticed a man at the accident site holding a female passenger’s hand while trying to keep her head out of the fast rising water. Risking his own life, Mr. Rouse jumped into the swift-moving, freezing river and tried to get the passenger door open to free the woman inside; however large boulders were blocking the door. A short time later, a Modoc County Sheriff Deputy arrived on scene and ran down to help Mr. Rouse in the river. The pair worked together to get the car door open. After the Sherriff’s Deputy pulled the woman out, Mr. Rouse began carrying her up the steep embankment until met by paramedics. The woman suffered a heart attack while in the water, and the driver ingested a great deal of water into his lungs and was unconscious for a time. Both were sent to a nearby hospital and then airlifted to a Reno hospital, where they both recovered.
Although soaking wet, Mr. Rouse stayed on scene to provide traffic control while the vehicle was pulled from the water. He went above and beyond his normal duties by staying at the scene even after the victims were rescued. Mr. Rouse returned to work for an additional three hours saying, “I was just doing my job.”
With no regard for his own safety, Mr. Rouse’s heroic service saved a woman from drowning in the Pit River.
Parks and Recreation
Christopher Connolly, Lifeguard II (silver)
On Dec. 11, 2015, during the biggest El Niño surf event in years, with 15 to 20 foot waves along a rocky shoreline, California State Parks Lifeguard II Christopher Connolly responded to a call at Faria Beach north of Ventura. Lifeguard Connolly entered the water without hesitation. He swam to the victim, secured him to a life buoy, and then fought wave sets while seeking a safe spot to exit the surf. Lifeguard Connolly traveled south from the initial rescue point for more than three-quarters of a mile in a swift current while attempts from other rescuers to reach the pair from shore failed. He held the victim close for protection and talked the surfer through the ordeal.
Eventually, Lifeguard Connolly was able to reach a sandy beach with the rescuee who was exhausted, but unhurt. Without the actions of Lifeguard Connolly, the surfer likely would have drowned in the pounding surf. Veteran lifeguards from California State Parks called Connolly’s efforts one of the most demanding and dynamic rescues ever witnessed.
With no regard for his own safety, Lifeguard Connolly’s heroic service saved the life of a tiring surfer, who was in danger of drowning.
Jeffrey Ginther, Sr. Master Sergeant, 144th Fighter Wing, California National Guard (silver)
On July 29, 2015, Sr. Master Sgt. Ginther witnessed an accident that resulted in the vehicle being submerged in an irrigation canal with the driver trapped inside. A crowd of bystanders gathered, and one entered the canal to attempt to rescue the driver. Upon opening the car door, both the driver and the individual attempting to aid him were pulled under the water.
Ginther, a water survival instructor, entered the swift-moving water to assist. He rescued both the driver and the would-be rescuer, bringing them to the safety of the canal bank. Due to Ginther’s swift actions, the driver did not sustain any serious injuries. His actions demonstrate unwavering courage and reflect great credit upon himself, the California Military Department and the State of California.
With no regard for his own safety, Sr. Master Sergeant Ginther’s heroic service saved two men from drowning in an irrigation canal.
Jesse Hernandez, Specialist, California Army National Guard (gold)
On Oct. 18, 2015, Hernandez was a Private First Class (PFC). He was on his way to work at the North County Correctional Facility when he noticed flames coming from the rear engine compartment of a large charter bus stopped on the freeway. He immediately pulled over to render aid. As he ran towards the bus, PFC Hernandez saw that several passengers were frantically hitting and kicking the exit door, which appeared to be stuck, trapping everyone inside. Without hesitation, Hernandez forced open the door, rescuing all 42 trapped passengers.
Then, in complete and total disregard for his own safety, he entered the smoke-filled bus and checked the entire passenger compartment for remaining people. Due to his swift actions, no passengers were seriously injured.
With no regard for his own safety, PFC Hernandez’s heroic act saved the lives of 42 people trapped onboard a burning bus.
Michael J. Long, Sergeant First Class, Recruiting and Retention Battalion, California National Guard (gold)
On Dec. 30, 2015, Sgt. First Class Michael J. Long witnessed a vehicle run off the road and launch into frigid waters. Without hesitation, he stopped his vehicle, jumped a fence, and ran to help the trapped driver. With the assistance of a retired Airman and a California Highway Patrol Officer, he entered the water as the car began to sink and, without regard for his own safety, wedged his knees under the rear of the car to keep the vehicle from sinking while the Highway Patrol Officer broke the window to extract the trapped driver.
He then swam the driver ashore and rendered first aid until the ambulance arrived. Due to Sgt. First Class Long’s swift actions, the driver did not sustain any serious injuries.