Adjust text size

VACP/VPCF Recognize Twenty-One Virginia Officers with 2009 Lifesaving Award

August 12, 2009 | VACP

News Image Twenty-one Virginia police officers are the recipients of the 2009 Lifesaving Awards presented by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) and the Virginia Police Chiefs Foundation (VPCF). The awards were announced on Tuesday, August 11 at the VACP/VPCF Annual Conference in Newport News, Virginia. The award recipients will be personally presented with their Lifesaving Awards by their agencies at a later date.

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 at ceremonies at the officers' agencies.

The 2009 VACP/VPCF Lifesaving Award recipients are as follows:

Alexandria Police Department
Officer Jeetphal Panesar

On February 2, 2008, Officer Jeetphal Panesar was heading west on Duke Street when he heard the Emergency Communication Technician (ECT) dispatch a call for a two-car crash in the 4600 block of Duke Street. Officer Panesar was not dispatched to the crash; however, he was near the location and volunteered to go to the scene.

Officer Panesar rushed to the scene and was the first officer to arrive. He saw one vehicle overturned, still slightly teetering, and smoke was everywhere. He saw the driver of the other vehicle coming towards him and he was covered in blood. Officer Panesar spoke with him and quickly determined that, despite his appearance, he was okay. Officer Panesar then ran towards the overturned car and saw the driver strapped in her seat looking dazed. As he peered into the back of the vehicle, he noticed a small child dangling from her seat with the seat belt wrapped tightly around her neck. The child was struggling to get free, but was tightening the seat belt around her throat with her movements. Officer Panesar tried to open the door, but it would not budge. He then smashed through the window to get to the child, getting shards of glass in his eyes in the process. After several attempts, he was unable to undo the child's seat belt. Using a knife that he always carried with him, Officer Panesar cut through the seat belts and caught the child as she fell. At that point, he noticed another child in the car and was able to get her out of her seat without difficulty. He then quickly rushed the two children towards safety.

Officer Panesar handed the children to other officers that arrived on the scene and then ran back to the overturned vehicle to check on the driver. Medics arrived and rushed to the woman's aid. At this point, the shards of glass in Officer Panesar eyes began burn and cause severe discomfort. A nurse who had stopped at the scene noticed Officer Panesar and quickly took him to a nearby ambulance where she was able to wash the pieces of glass from his eyes and treat his injuries.

The two children rescued by Officer Panesar were taken to INOVA Alexandria Hospital's Emergency Room. The child who had been suspended from her seatbelt had marks on her neck from the incident, but was otherwise unharmed. The pediatric staff confirmed that the quick response of Officer Panesar saved the child's life.

Chesapeake Police Department
Officer Anthony W. Kelly

On June 1, 2009 at approximately 4:15 p.m., Chesapeake Police Officer Sean Fleming was on his way home from work. While driving, he noticed two marked police vehicles operating their emergency equipment and attempting to stop a white van. He quickly became aware via his portable radio that a felony pursuit was in progress and began to drive in the direction of his fellow officers.

While approaching the scene, a lone individual exited a wood line along the roadway and immediately caught sight of Officer Fleming, who was still in his uniform and operating his personal vehicle. The individual leveled an AK-style assault rifle in Officer Fleming’s direction and opened fire. Officer Fleming’s vehicle was riddled with no fewer than twenty bullet holes, four which hit Officer Fleming. Undeterred and possessing a will to survive, Officer Fleming immediately returned fire. Still maintaining his composure after the incoming shots subsided, he broadcast over the radio that he had been hit numerous times.

Chesapeake Police Officer Anthony Kelly arrived at the chaotic scene during the exchange of gunfire. Information available at the time indicated other suspects had fled the traffic stop and might also be in the wood line in possession of assault rifles. Officer Kelly immediately responded to Officer Fleming’s location and dragged him several yards to an area of relative cover. Additional responding officers assisted Officer Kelly in moving Officer Fleming to an even safer location where they began to administer first aid. Officer Anthony Kelly willingly and without hesitation responded to the imminent need of a fellow officer. For his actions, he is recognized with the VACP/VPCF Award for Lifesaving.

Officer Sean Fleming willingly responded to the aid of his fellow officers when he could have instead chosen to let on-duty officers handle the situation. Once confronted and out-gunned by an armed adversary, he never gave up. His actions stopped an immediate and deadly threat to other officers and citizens. For his actions, he was recognized with the VACP/VPCF Award for Valor.

Chesterfield County Police Department
Officer Nathan T. Almond

On January 10, 2009, at about 1:15 P.M., Officer Almond was off-duty with his family driving down Happy Hill Road in the Stoney Glen West subdivision when he noticed a heavy concentration of smoke. Officer Almond investigated the origin of the smoke, discovering the front porch of 4937 Lippingham Drive fully engulfed in flames. Officer Almond parked his vehicle, instructed his wife to dial 911, and then proceeded to the fire. No one was observed outside of the residence. Officer Almond began yelling that the house was on fire, alerting anyone possibly inside. Officer Almond banged on the garage of the residence and continued to yell fire as he began to attempt forced entry. A young male then exited the garage.

Officer Almond, through heavy smoke, entered the residence through the garage and observed heavy fire in the dining and living room. Officer Almond encountered a disabled female in the kitchen area and was advised of dogs in the residence. Officer Almond captured one dog and evacuated through a rear door with the mother and son. Officer Almond re-entered the residence and exited with another dog. The mother and son attempted to re-enter the house and Officer Almond prevented the mother from entering, but was unable to stop the son. Officer Almond re-entered and evacuated the son as the front was fully engulfed in flames.

Neighbors then alerted Officer Almond of a man in a second floor window. At this point the house was fully engulfed, so Officer Almond provided guidance and coaxed the male to jump. Officer Almond then safely gathered the family to the front of the house. Upon arrival of the fire department, Officer Almond advised them of the status of the fire and that the house had been evacuated.

Henrico County Division of Police
Officer Travis W. VonCanon

On October 10, 2008, while off-duty and in his personal vehicle, Officer Travis W. VonCanon and his daughter witnessed a motor vehicle crash on Interstate 295 near the Henrico/Hanover line, just inside Hanover County. The vehicle ran off the roadway and through some trees. Officer VonCanon stopped to assist the driver only to find that her vehicle had traveled through the trees into a large body of water and was almost completely submerged. The only part of the vehicle that was visible was the hood area.

Officer VonCanon could hear a female driver, later identified as Jessica Martin, crying for help as he approached the body of water. With the vehicle continuing to become submerged, Officer VonCanon entered the water, placing himself in danger by entering an unknown body of water to rescue the victim from the automobile. Ms. Martin, who had seriously injured her right foot/ankle, was unable to free herself or exit the vehicle. Officer VonCanon was able to help free her and assisted her in reaching the shoreline where he provided comfort to Ms. Martin until the arrival of fire and EMS units who took over care and transported her to a local hospital.

Ms. Martin could have easily drowned during this incident had it not been for the heroic acts that Officer VonCanon took while in an off-duty capacity.

Hopewell Police Department
Detective Donald E. Reid

On September 15, 2008, Detective Reid was the first officer on the scene of a structure fire in progress. He immediately determined that a child endangerment situation was resulting from the fire — a small child and the child's mother were in the burning house. Detective Reid kicked the door in, retrieved the child, and carried the child from the burning house. He then re-entered the house, located the mother, and pulled her from the house.

Detective Reid disregarded his own personal safety to save the lives of two city residents. He displayed quick thinking and selflessness in rescuing this child and mother. Officer Reid's actions reflect great credit upon himself, the Hopewell Police Department, and the City of Hopewell.

Newport News Police Department
Sergeant Daniel M. Butler
Master Police Officer John T. Hughes

On November 24, 2008 at approximately 0140 hours, while traveling southbound on Warwick Boulevard, Sergeant Butler heard a loud crash. He made a U-turn to investigate the sound and saw a black vehicle rolling over with flames engulfing the front of the vehicle. After parking his vehicle, Sergeant Butler ran to the scene and could see an individual trapped inside the vehicle. The doors of the vehicle were so badly damaged from the accident that they would not open. The driver was in imminent danger due to the fire that was roaring in his face. The flames began to overtake the cab of the truck. Sergeant Butler cut the seatbelt from the victim and attempted to pull him out of the vehicle through the window, but was unable to do so because the victim was entangled in the wreckage.

Master Police Officer Hughes arrived at the scene and both officers retrieved their fire extinguishers from their patrol cars and returned to the vehicle. They attempted to extinguish the fire while shielding the victim's face from the flames. Fortunately, they were able to extinguish the fire as the medics and firefighters arrived. The firefighters used the "Jaws of Life" to extricate the victim from the vehicle. The victim was then transported to Riverside Regional Medical Center. Due to the quick response and cool-headedness of these officers, the life of this victim was saved.

Newport News Police Department
Sergeant Mark A. Cook
Sergeant Earl D. McNair
Master Police Officer Douglas W. Bush

On August 10, 2008, units along with the Fire Department responded to an apartment fire. The dispatcher advised that there were several children trapped inside the apartment. Sergeant Cook, Sergeant McNair and Master Police Officer Bush were first on the scene. The apartment was fully engulfed, and the scene was chaotic. Sergeant McNair exposed himself to great danger and entered the apartment. He immediately located two of the three children inside the apartment near a front window. The children were severely injured and had been overcome by smoke and heat from the fire.

Knowing that there was a third child still trapped inside the home, Sergeant Cook and Master Police Officer Bush voluntarily exposed themselves to danger by entering the apartment intent on locating the third child. However, the fire had become so intense that they were both driven back by the flames and were unable to rescue the third child without protective apparatus. A member of the Newport News Fire Department then arrived, wearing protective apparatus, and was able to enter the smoke and fire-filled apartment and rescue the third child who was found unconscious in a rear bedroom.

Prince William County Police Department
Officer Cottrell Derrick
Officer Jessica Tacha

The immediate and thorough response of Officer Cottrell Derrick and Officer Jessica Tacha of the Prince William County Police Department saved the life of a suicidal victim.

Officers Derrick and Tacha responded to a cell phone call for help, only to learn that the caller had provided an incorrect location. Repeated attempts to reach the caller were unsuccessful and went directly into voicemail. The officers began searching in the location of the cell tower with which the caller’s phone had connected, and subsequently located a distraught female near the train tracks.

As a train approached, she sat on tracks next to where the train was passing. The officers noticed a second train approaching on the tracks where the woman was sitting. They quickly approached the woman but she resisted their attempts to remove her from the tracks. Placing themselves in danger, they were able to pull her to a safe distance just as the second train passed.

Radford Police Department
Sergeant Andrew Szerkoman
Corporal Jarrett Rhodes
Officer Jason Tickle

On December 22, 2008 at approximately 2100 hours, Officer Jason Tickle was dispatched to Memorial Bridge in the City of Radford in reference to a suspicious person. When Officer Tickle arrived, he observed a man who had stepped over the bridge railing in an apparent effort to commit suicide. He immediately radioed for assistance and received the help of on duty Sergeant Szerkoman and off duty Corporal Rhodes, along with Carillon EMS First Responder Pete Cotti. Other on and off duty officers responded to assist in the rescue of this subject.

Sergeant Szerkoman, Corporal Rhodes, and Officer Tickle, along with EMS Cotti, tried to communicate with the person. It became obvious that he was deaf and Sergeant Szerkoman approached in an effort to hand the subject pen and paper. At this time, the person lowered himself over the side of the bridge so that he was clinging to the rail with both hands. Sergeant Szerkoman and EMS Cotti lunged and grabbed the subject’s left arm and Officer Tickle and Corporal Rhodes grabbed the subject’s right arm. The despondent subject had released his grip of the bridge and was being held by these four brave men.

The weather conditions were extreme on this night with chilling temperatures and brisk winds. The officers struggled mightily to hold on to the subject for more than five minutes in an effort to secure a rope to him to keep him from falling. As the individual hung over the edge of the bridge, Officers put their own lives at risk by exposing themselves to the danger of falling. Officer Tickle, Corporal Rhodes and EMS Cotti eventually lost their grasp, leaving Sergeant Szerkoman holding the subject alone. Sergeant Szerkoman was able to hold on for another two minutes until the subject was able to free his hand from his glove and plunge 90 feet to the hard ground below. Sadly, the victim died of his injuries.

Though this rescue attempt ended tragically, it doesn’t diminish the heroic efforts of the officers involved. All of these officers exposed themselves to the same dangers of falling as the suicidal subject. Their brave, dedicated, and selfless actions were extended to a person in a most dire need with little regard to their own personal safety.

Radford Police Department
Officer Lemmie Sanders

On April 25, 2009 at approximately 0600, Officer Sanders was finishing a call near Tyler Avenue when he was contacted by an EMS worker who was transporting a patient to the hospital. The EMS worker told Officer Sanders that he observed smoke coming from the back of 1211 Tyler Avenue.

Officer Sanders responded to the location and found the back deck area of the home fully engulfed in flames. He ran to the front and began beating on the door and was able to wake a resident. Battling the thick smoke, he entered the home with the resident and successfully led the four others inside – ages 63, 30, 25, and 2 – to safety. While completing this rescue, Officer Sanders contacted his communications center to have fire units dispatched and helped coordinate their response. Immediately after the residents were rescued from the home, it was consumed by flames.

Officer Sander’s brave and selfless actions saved the lives of those sleeping at 1211 Tyler Avenue on this early morning.

Richmond Police Department
Officer Robert Sturdevant


Virginia State Police
Trooper Christopher Flaherty

In early June 2008, Officer Robert Sturdevant and Trooper Christopher Flaherty were patrolling Mosby Court for their FFI assignment. The officers spotted a significant amount of smoke coming from an area close by.

Once they were closer the officers noticed a shed had caught fire. Officer Sturdevant and Trooper Flaherty approached the building and yelled to see if anyone was inside. The officers heard a faint voice and tried to tell the man to come outside.

Out of fear, the man retreated to the back of the shed. Without hesitation, Officer Sturdevant and Trooper Flaherty entered the burning shed and dragged the victim to safety. 

Roanoke County Police Department
Officer Andrea D. Morris

On October 7, 2008, Officer Andrea Morris was a front seat passenger while training a recruit at the Department's driver training facility.

During one of the training evaluations the recruit's vehicle left the roadway and overturned on its roof and became partially submerged in a pond of water. Officer Morris was able to extricate herself from the vehicle; however the recruit was not capable of removing herself.

Driver training instructors and other recruits attempted to reach the vehicle but could not move because of waist-deep mud. As the vehicle continued to sink Officer Morris was able to climb onto the car and hold the recruit’s head above the water. When the recruit's head became submerged, and the vehicle continued to sink, Officer Morris climbed back into the submerged vehicle and released the safety harness, and pulled the recruit to safety. Without doubt Officer Morris's actions saved the recruit from certain drowning.

Officer Morris later announced that she was four to five weeks pregnant when the incident occurred. Without hesitation she risked her own life and that of her unborn child to save the life of a fellow officer. (Officer Morris delivered a healthy baby girl May 10, 2009.)

Virginia Beach Police Department
Master Police Officer Dana W. Johnson

On Tuesday, September 2, 2008, a 38-year-old male entered the Virginia Beach City Public Schools Administration building. The subject had applied on several occasions for employment but had been not been selected and was distraught about his inability to gain employment. His intent was to meet with a specific school administrator, but was told that the person wasn’t available. The male subject returned a short time later and left several envelopes, addressed to “the police”, “my wife”, “my life”, and “DNR” (Do not resuscitate), at the front desk area. The office employee who found the envelopes observed the male subject walk toward the exit and noticed that he had a gun. She immediately told Security Officer Mike Desantis, a retired VBPD officer, that the subject looked to be preparing for something bad. The security assistant looked outside and saw that the male had a pistol in one hand and was pointing it at himself. The Security Officer then ordered the building into lock down and instructed the office assistant to call 911. Security Officer Desantis began to observe the male from a slightly ajar front door, and engaged in negotiations to distract him, with the hopes of preventing the subject from harming himself or anyone else that may be in the vicinity.

MPO Dana Johnson was one of the first units to arrive at the school Administration Building. After taking up the safest position available, he had a clear view of the subject, who was holding a Glock 9mm pistol to his head. The subject was an estimated 40-45 feet away from MPO Johnson who immediately engaged in verbal negotiations with the subject. MPO Johnson’s effective negotiations at that point allowed other officers to get into positions of containment, preventing innocent bystanders from entering the building and the distraught subject from leaving.

MPO Johnson relentlessly, but tactfully, continued to establish a dialog and rapport with the individual. After several minutes, the distraught citizen heeded to MPO Johnson’s requests and threw the handgun off to the side and into some shrubs nearby. This allowed for a detainment element of officers to approach and take the subject into custody without further incident.

Virginia State Police
Trooper Kurt J. Johnson

On February 6, 2009 around 11:30 p.m. in Accomack County on Route 13, .1 mile north of Route 744, Mrs. Danielle N. Strand was traveling south with her three small children when she fell asleep at the wheel. The vehicle ran off the road right, into a ditch, striking a culvert and flipping her vehicle end over end. The impact was so violent that the car burst into flames and partially crushed the roof of the car. The young woman crawled out of the burning wreck and pulled two of her small children to safety. She was unable to find her third child.

Trooper Kurt Johnson, on routine patrol, came upon the crash and saw that the car was engulfed by fire. The victim screamed to him that her young daughter was still in the car. Without any hesitation or regard for his own safety, Trooper Johnson crawled into the twisted upside-down burning car and searched the black, smoke-filled passenger compartment for the small child. Through the smoke, he was able to find the child stuck under the front dash and pulled her to safety. Within seconds, the entire car was totally engulfed in fire.

Trooper Johnson performed an extraordinary act of heroism. By his undaunted courage and unwavering devotion to duty, Trooper Johnson saved the life of this little girl, who turned 3 the day of the crash. Trooper Johnson acted professionally and upheld the highest traditions of the Virginia 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.