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VACP/VPCF Recognizes Nineteen Virginia Officers with 2007 Lifesaving Award

August 27, 2007 | VACP

Nineteen Virginia police officers are the recipients of the 2007 Lifesaving Awards presented by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) and the Virginia Police Chiefs Foundation (VPCF). The awards were announced at the VACP/VPCF Annual Conference on August 27 at the Williamsburg Lodge in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Lifesaving Award recognizes an officer’s actions that put the officer in harm’s way in an attempt to save the live of another individual. The awards were given to the recipients’ police chiefs to be presented in ceremonies at the officers’ agencies.

The 2007 VACP/VPCF Lifesaving Award recipients are as follows:

Alexandria Police Dept.
Sergeant Dennis Andreas
Officer Shawn Adcock
Officer Stephen Parker
Officer Douglass Serven

On June 25, 2006, Officers Adcock and Parker were returning from a call in nearby Fairfax County when they heard Detective Ignacio pleading for help on the radio because people, including children, were trapped where rushing floodwaters were overtaking their vehicles. Both officers responded and, once on scene and without hesitation, took off their gun belts, vests and shirts and entered the water. The water rose quickly and was so deep that the feet of Officer Parker, who is six-foot tall, could no longer touch the ground.

While swimming out to the vehicles, the officers were struck by floating logs, garbage cans and other hazardous debris. Once at the first vehicle, a pickup truck in which three adults and a baby were trapped, both officers learned that none of the people could swim. One of the adults told the officers that there may be people trapped further ahead in vehicles that were submerged against the bridge supports. Officer Parker immediately re-entered the water and swam over to the submerged vehicles.

When he got to the vehicles his foot got trapped on a submerged barbed wire fence. He had to free himself while staying above the water line and while being pelted by debris. He eventually was able to get over the fence and to the vehicles to check for persons in need of help. Finding none, he returned to Officer Adcock and the trapped people. Officer Adcock and Parker then swam the people to safety just as the rising water completely overtook the family’s pickup truck. Sergeant Dennis Andreas and K9 Officer Douglass Serven arrived nearby to assist in the rescue efforts.

While swimming to the vehicles, both officers were pinned against a submerged fence by the fast moving current. After being rescued by fire department personnel, the officers continue assisting the fire personnel in search and rescue efforts. A sergeant who saw the devastation and knew of the acts stated, "I have seen no braver acts by officers of the Alexandria Police Department in my 20 years of service here."

All 4 officers were awarded Alexandria's highest award for Valor, the Gold medal. They all suffered minor injuries with the exception of K9 Officer Serven, who suffered an injury that kept him out of work for months. Officers Adcock and Parker were responsible for saving 3 adults and 1 infant.

Chesapeake Police Dept.
Officer K.M. Staley
Officer J.A. Franceschi
Officer N.F. McGanty
Officer P.M. Bossuot

Virginia State Police
Trooper B. Blakey
Trooper S.D. Covil


On Thursday, April 26, 2007, Chesapeake police officers received information that a 21-year-old female was going to commit suicide by jumping off the high rise bridge located on Interstate 64. Officers from the Chesapeake Police Department and the Virginia State Police located the female as she walked to the top of the 65-foot tall bridge.

Chesapeake Officer K. M. Staley, a police negotiator, began a dialogue with the female who had climbed over the bridge railing. After approximately one hour of negotiating the female prepared to jump off the bridge. As the female slid off the supporting platform, Officer Staley jumped over the guard rail and grabbed the arm of the now dangling female. Virginia State Trooper B. Blakey also jumped over the guardrail to assist Office Staley.

Chesapeake Officers J. A. Franceschi, N. F. McGanty, P.M. Bossuot and Virginia State Police Trooper S. D. Covil also grabbed the female and supported her until other officers could anchor them. After approximately one minute, the officers were able to muster enough strength to pull the female back over the bridge railing. Had it not been for the quick efforts of these officers who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way to save the life of this woman, she would have certainly fell to her death.

Marion Police Dept.
Officer Steven E. Widner

On January 30, 2007, Marion officers were dispatched to a structure fire at 410 East Main Street. Flames had engulfed the entry front of the residence and black heavy smoke was coming out the eaves.

As Officer Widner arrived, a neighbor came running out across the street yelling to him that someone was living there in the residence. He saw that the back door to the residence was standing open. Shining his flashlight down the hallway, he could see a male adult laying face down on the floor inside the residence. He could see the fire was starting to come down the hallway, so he crouched down and went inside after the male subject. Grabbing hold of his hand and arm, Officer Widner started pulling the man toward the doorway, telling him that they had to get out of the house.

Officer Chapman came around the end of the house and began to assist Officer Widner in getting the subject to a safe location away from the residence. Officer Chapman and Sgt. Clark then stayed with the subject until rescue arrived.

Officer Widner then and got his firefighting gear from his partrol vehicle to assist with fighting the fire. However, the house was a total loss, and the cause of the fire remains unknown. Following the incident, the male subject was transported to Smyth County Community Hospital by the Marion Lifesaving Crew where he was in the ICU for two days before being released.

Portsmouth Police Dept.
Officer Richard Overstreet

On November 29, 2006, Officer Overstreet was involved in an attempted lifesaving incident involving a citizen who was trapped inside her vehicle in submerged water.

At approximately 11:07 a.m., a station wagon was traveling westbound on Elliott Avenue at a high rate of speed. The vehicle left the roadway and struck a dirt mound, which launched the car into a pond. A witness to the accident stopped Officer Overstreet turning from McLean Street onto Elliott Avenue, and advised him of what had happened. Officer Overstreet immediately responded to the scene where he observed the car still floating in the water.

Officer Overstreet entered the frigid water and swam to the car. By the time he was able to reach the car, it had sunk beneath the surface. He stood on the car and began trying to break the rear window. After several attempts to gain entry into the car, he was physically exhausted and unable to continue. As Officer Overstreet was swimming back to shore, the witness jumped into the water and assisted him back to shore.

Officer Overstreet was transported to the hospital by medics and treated for symptoms of hypothermia and exhaustion. Officer Overstreet attempted to save the life of the vehicle operator, placing himself at great risk. Unfortunately, the female victim succumbed to her injuries.

Richmond Police Dept.
Officer Anthony Paciello

On July 29th, Officer Anthony Paciello was driving by Pony Pasture Park when he heard cries for help.

As he approached the distraught individuals he quickly learned there would be a barrier due to the fact that they were all Spanish speaking. The citizens were able to direct him to a 7-year-old boy whose foot was stuck between rocks in the James River. His parents were desperately trying to keep the boy's head above water but were losing the battle.

Officer Paciello put his own life in danger by going into the water to determine how the boy was stuck. He realized the boy was wearing Velcro sandals. He unhooked one sandal in the front and back, and then slid the boy's foot out of the sandal and away from the rock. While doing this, Paciello kept a firm grip on the boy.

Once his foot was free, Paciello pulled the boy to safety on the rocks. Officer Paciello's quick assessment and reaction to an extremely tense situation saved a little boy's life and saved a family from a lifetime of grief. The language barrier and water didn't deter Officer Paciello from helping someone in need.

Richmond Police Dept.
Officer John Rotondi
Officer William Cutshall

On July 16, Jesse Farmer ventured off a path on Belle Isle in downtown Richmond. He lost his footing, slid down a slope, and found himself clinging to the edge of a cliff 50 feet above ground. The Division of Emergency Communications could not determine the exact address of the situation.

Once on the scene, Officers John Rotondi and William Cutshall were directed by citizens and able to find Farmer, and then called the Fire Department. It was visibly clear that Farmer might not be able to hang on until rescue arrived so immediate action was necessary. Both officers climbed the path to the top of the cliff and carefully made their way to Farmer, who was already starting to lose his grip.

Officer Rotondi hooked one of his legs around a tree at the edge of the cliff. By doing so he was able to convince Farmer to let go of the cliff and grab his hand. Officer Cutshall then grabbed Farmer's other hand and together the two officers pulled Farmer to safety.

Without reservation, these two officers put their own lives in jeopardy to save the life of another individual who needed immediate assistance.

Richmond Police Dept.
Officer Frank Scarpa
Officer Matthew Laird

While patrolling their sector in the early morning hours of January 18, First Precinct Officers Mervin Mayo and Gregory Nienow noticed what appeared to be a dark cloud of smoke covering a large area. After finding the source of the smoke, they were certain it was a house fire.

Upon arrival they saw the smoke was pouring from the vents of the attic. The officers knocked on the doors and windows several times before a resident finally answered. Fire was dispatched while both officers did a sweep through the house to wake the residents.

Not only did the officers assist the residents in fleeing a burning building, they started grabbing their belongings to try and save as much as possible for the victims. The officers then went to the houses on each side to evacuate the neighboring families as a precautionary measure.

The fire was started as a result of an electrical short in the attic. The insulation was smoldering and had just begun to turn to flames. The fire was caught in just enough time to salvage the home.

Because of the officers' quick reaction five people, a dog, and the house were saved from what could have been a devastating incident.

Roanoke Police Dept.
Officer Dwight W. Ayers

On January 9, 2007 Officer Dwight Ayers delivered an individual to a local hospital in reference to an Emergency Custody Order.

Shortly after their arrival, the officer transferred custody of the subject to hospital staff. As Officer Ayers was leaving he saw the individual run towards the exit, with hospital staff attempting to detain him. The officer then joined in the foot pursuit, which traveled outside.

Once outside, the subject ran into the Roanoke River and held on to a tree limb in the water. Officer Ayers attempted to convince the individual to come back to the riverbank, but the subject refused. Officer Ayers then ran into the river in an attempt to rescue the man. The temperature on that evening was 25 degrees Fahrenheit, the water temperature was 41 degrees Fahrenheit, wind gust were 20-30 miles per hour, and the river was flowing at 996 cubic feet per second. The river was higher than normal and the current was much stronger due to recent rains.

Officer Ayers made contact with the subject, and began to pull him towards the riverbank. As this occurred the officer lost his footing, possibly in a hole in the riverbed, and both he and the subject went under water. At that point the subject pushed away from Officer Ayers, and the officer was unable to regain contact with the individual. At that point the officer realized his life was in danger. He was able to make his way back to the riverbank after floating downstream approximately 150 yards.

Once at the bank, Officer Ayers collapsed and was taken into the hospital by medical staff. He was treated for hypothermia and ingesting a large amount of water from the river. Unfortunately, the subject was unable to survive the ordeal and his body was located two days later.

The department and Officer Ayers certainly wish this event could have ended differently, with the subject being saved. However, Officer Ayers did everything in his power to attempt to rescue this individual. The officer disregarded his own safety and put his life in jeopardy, nearly drowning and being overcome by hypothermia, all in an effort to save the life of another.

Virginia State Police
Trooper Bethany L. Roberts

On January 21, 2007, at 12:15 a.m., Trooper Bethany L. Roberts of the Virginia State Police was dispatched to a motor vehicle accident. The accident was on 1-95 southbound at the 126-mile marker near the intersection of Route 1.

Two vehicles were involved in the accident, a 1996 Dodge 1500 truck that was towing a 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe. The road conditions at the time were extremely dangerous with snow, sleet and ice. The 1996 Dodge 1500 truck lost control and wrecked in the center median, which totaled both vehicles.

Upon arriving at the scene, Trooper Roberts positioned her patrol vehicle on the northbound side of the median on 1-95. She gained control of the accident site and contacted the available wrecker services.

After Trooper Roberts finished the accident investigation and placed the appropriate charges against the driver, she began to assist with the removal of the vehicles in the median. Mr. David Javier Zavala Espinoza was the driver that was involved in the accident. He was standing in the median near the accident scene. Trooper Roberts observed a vehicle in the southbound lane lose control and hit the embankment in the medium and go airborne into the direct path of Mr. Espinoza.

At that moment, Trooper Roberts performed an extraordinary act of heroism, with imminent personal risk by placing herself in the direct path of the oncoming vehicle. Trooper Roberts grabbed Mr. Espinoza and pushed him away from the oncoming vehicle and into a ditch. Trooper Roberts then attempted to cover Mr. Espinoza with her body to protect him from personal injury. During this process the vehicle came within feet of striking both Trooper Roberts and Mr. Espinoza.

Without this extraordinary act of heroism by Trooper Roberts, Mr. Espinoza could have been severely injured or killed. Trooper Bethany L. Roberts is highly recommended for favorable consideration for the VACP/VPCF Lifesaving Award. Trooper Roberts performed an extraordinary act of heroism that put her in harm's way in an attempt to save the life of another individual.

Sergeant James Failor arrived just moments after this event occurred. He was able to confirm that the incident had taken place by talking with all witnesses at the scene. Trooper Bethany L. Roberts’ professionalism and heroism are a credit to her and the Virginia Department of State Police.


The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is a statewide organization of federal, state and local police chiefs and law enforcement executives dedicated to improving the professionalism of police agencies in Virginia. The Association was founded in 1926 and has more than 600 members. The Association provides annual training programs for law enforcement executives, directs a statewide traffic safety program for law enforcement, produces Freedom of Information Act guidelines for law enforcement and lobbies for law enforcement interests at the state and federal level.

The Virginia Police Chiefs Foundation is a charitable educational foundation created by the VACP to provide training and education programs, an awards program, youth scholarships and a youth leadership camp for high school students.