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VACP/VPCF Recognize Twenty-Five Virginia Officers with 2014 Lifesaving Awards

September 10, 2014 | VACP

Twenty-five Virginia police officers are the recipients of the 2014 Lifesaving Awards presented by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) and the Virginia Police Chiefs Foundation (VPCF.) The awards will be announced September 9 at the VACP/VPCF Annual Conference in Roanoke, Virginia, and awarded at a later date at ceremonies at the officers’ agencies.

The Lifesaving Award recognizes an officer’s actions that put the officer in harm’s way in an attempt to save the life of another individual. The 2014 VACP/VPCF Lifesaving Award recipients are as follows:

Chesterfield County Police Department
Master Officer Paul J. Cunniff, Sr.
Sr. Officer Kenneth J. King
Officer Edward C. Costley

On June 14, 2013, Officer Paul Cunniff responded to a house fire call. Initial reports indicated that someone was on the roof of the residence, but responding officers did not see anyone on the roof when they arrived. Officer Cunniff saw flames and heavy smoke billowing from the roof, but did not hesitate to enter the home. He was able to safely remove one person from inside the residence. That victim said his father was still inside and, based on this statement, Officer Cunniff re-entered the burning, ranch-style home to find the second victim.

Officer Cunniff could barely see the man through the smoke; the man was attempting to extinguish the fire with a garden hose. The ceiling was just beginning to fall as Officer Cunniff made contact with Mr. Anderson and advised him to leave. Mr. Anderson was adamant that he would not leave, as he was trying to extinguish the fire. The situation was deteriorating rapidly and Officer Cunniff determined that physically restraining Mr. Anderson and forcibly removing him from the residence was his only option. As Officer Cunniff did so, Mr. Anderson fought stubbornly, with garden hose in hand, to remain in the house. As the two made it to the threshold, Officers Costley and King helped Officer Cunniff remove Mr. Anderson. The officers then attempted to block re-entry as Mr. Anderson forced his way back into the house. All three officers ran back into the burning home after him, and had to physically remove the argumentative and combative man from the residence once again. As they removed him from the residence this last time, Fire and EMS arrived to put out the fire.

Without concern for their own well-being, Master Officer Paul J. Cunniff, Sr. Officer Kenneth J. King and Officer Edward C. Costley went above and beyond the call of duty, putting them in harm’s way to save the lives of the victims.


Chesterfield County Police Department
Officer Brian M. Dentel

On February 27, 2014, Officer Brian Dentel responded to an assist rescue call. The victim's mother had reported hearing the smoke detector going off and not being able to reach her daughter, who was diabetic. Upon arrival, Officer Dentel immediately grabbed his sledgehammer and approached the locked door. Hearing the fire alarm and not getting a response, he forced entry into the residence. Officer Dentel found the apartment to be full of smoke from food that was burning on the stove and discovered the unconscious victim lying face down and the floor. Officer Dentel and Firefighter Trice quickly evacuated the victim, who was transported to a local hospital for smoke inhalation and diabetic related issues. Officer Brian Dentel's actions saved the victim's life.


Chesterfield County Police Department
Sergeant Michael B. Young
Officer Melvin Matias

On March 8, 2013, Officer Melvin Matias responded to a call for an accident involving a pedestrian. Upon arrival, Officer Matias saw the victim get up from the ground and run towards Interstate 95. Officer Matias realized the victim was in need of medical attention due to the vehicle accident and rushed into action. Sergeant Michael Young arrived and joined Officer Matias in pursuit of the victim, who had run to the overpass on Woods Edge Road at Interstate 95. The victim would not respond to officers' commands and climbed over the barrier. Sergeant Young positioned himself on one side of the victim and briefly distracted the man, which gave him an opportunity to grab the man's left arm, as well as his torso. At the same time, Officer Matias grabbed the right arm and torso, which were hanging over the overpass into the southbound lane of travel. Both officers used their body weight to maintain control of the victim and firefighters helped pull him over to safety.

By placing themselves at risk, the response from Sergeant Michael Young and Officer Melvin Matias far exceeds the duty of these officers who did not allow this precarious situation to deter them from springing into action. They are credited with saving the victim's life.


Franklin Police Department
Sergeant Todd Lyons
Officer Quentin Livingston

On February 26, 2014 at approximately 1640 hours, Sergeant Lyons and Officer Livingston were on Bracey Street in the City of Franklin in response to a call for service.  While attending to this call, Officer Livingston was alerted by a citizen to a residence on fire and that there was a person inside.

Officer Livingston immediately broadcast this information requesting fire and rescue. Sergeant Lyons hearing Officer Livingston's radio traffic immediately broke off from the call for service and responded to the residence. Both officers ran to the residence, which had thick, black smoke coming from the doors and windows.  Upon entering the dwelling both officers were met with zero visibility. The officers crawled into the house in an effort to locate the resident.  The officers were unable to see anything so they felt their way around until they came to a couch in the living room where Officer Livingston felt the leg of a person lying on the couch.

Officer Livingston alerted Sergeant Lyons to the discovery of the person and together they carried the victim outside. As the officers were leaving the residence, the flames of the fire had spread to the ceiling above them. Once outside it was discovered that the victim was not breathing and did not have a pulse. Officer Livingston immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation and after a few minutes the victim began to breathe on her own. Sergeant Lyons, having knowledge of this residence, realized that a child also lived at this location.  Sgt. Lyons re-entered the residence calling for the child, but it was later learned that the child had not returned home from school.

The residence structure was separated into two attached dwellings so Sergeant Lyons initiated efforts to locate and warn the next door neighbor. It was found that this resident was handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. This individual was having difficulty leaving her residence so Sgt. Lyons wheeled her down the wheelchair ramp at the rear of the residence to a safe location.

Sergeant Lyons returned to Officer Livingston who had stayed with the fire victim, talking to her in an effort to comfort her until emergency medical services arrived. The victim, Magdeline Jenkins 56, of the 200 Block of Bracey Street was transported to Southampton Memorial Hospital for initial treatment before being air lifted to Norfolk General Hospital, where she made a full recovery.


Fredericksburg Police Department
Lt. Bill Hallam
Officer Ryan Merrell

Arriving first on the scene of a nighttime call for a fire engulfing a Fredericksburg home on September 17, Lieutenant Bill Hallam and Officer Ryan Merrell noticed a teenage female hanging out of a second story window with heavy smoke pouring out around her.

With the sense of urgency mounting and with the Fire Department still on the way, Lieutenant Hallam pulled his patrol SUV under the window but the distance from the vehicle’s roof to the window was still too great.

Officer Merrell checked a neighbor’s backyard to see if he could find a ladder and fortunately he was able to secure one. Officer Merrell positioned the ladder underneath the window and it was still about three feet short. 

The frightened victim refused to climb out of the window to try and reach the ladder.  Lieutenant Hallam climbed to the top of the ladder, with Officer Merrell steadying it, and pulled the girl in a bear hug from the window and onto the ladder.  The victim was swiftly brought to the ground and safety.

Due to the quick-thinking and bravery of Lieutenant Hallam and Officer Merrell, the girl was rescued and transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation injuries.  She made a full recovery.


Hanover County Sheriff’s Office
Deputy Kevin L. Ayers

On Friday, August 30, 2013 at approximately 2236 hours the Hanover Sheriff’s Office responded to the 9500 block of Atlee Station Road for a single vehicle accident. As the vehicle left the roadway it struck a utility pole. The pole then shattered, causing the power lines to fall on top of the vehicle.

The juvenile driver was able to get out of the vehicle after the collision. Realizing he left his keys in the ignition he returned to the vehicle to get them. In doing so the driver was shocked by the downed power lines that were on top of his vehicle.

At that time, off-duty deputy Kevin Ayers came upon the scene. Ayers immediately went to the aid of the driver who was unable to move because he had lost feeling in his legs. Ayers pulled the driver away from his vehicle and in doing so he received a small shock. Shortly after removing the driver to safety, the vehicle became engulfed in flames.

The following day the investigating deputy interviewed the driver at the VCU Medical Center – Burn Trauma Unit. The driver told the deputy that his friend did not know how to help him get away from the vehicle. The driver stated “that’s when that guy,” referring to Ayers, “came up and pulled him out of his vehicle.” He continued by saying that Ayers threw him over his shoulder and got him out of there before his car went up in flames. The driver said that he wanted to thank the off duty officer in person because, “That guy saved my life.”

While disregarding his own welfare, Deputy Ayers bravely entered a dangerous crash scene to rescue an injured juvenile. If not for Ayer’s immediate action the juvenile would have potentially sustained far greater injury or death.


Prince William County Police Department
Officer Patrick R. Balchunas

On Jan. 28, 2013, Officer Balchunas responded to a home in reference to a shooting-in-progress call. While enroute to the call, it was determined that the victim was shot numerous times in the chest and once in the arm and leg. The reporting person gave a suspect description and advised that the suspect was on foot. Prior to his arriving on scene, another officer located the suspect and Officer Balchunas stopped to assist taking him into custody.

Officer Balchunas interviewed the suspect and obtained valuable information about where the weapon was located and how many people were still at the residence. He relayed that information to officers on scene. Knowing that the victim was shot numerous times, Officer Balchunas retrieved his medical pack from the trunk of his cruiser and responded to the scene.

The victim could be seen lying on the sidewalk. Officer Balchunas approached the residence with the other officers, stopping by the victim to move him - with the help of another officer- out of harm's way to cover at the corner of the garage. Officer Balchunas remained with the victim to render aid while the other officers cleared the residence. He determined that the victim suffered life-threatening injuries and a large amount of blood loss. EMS units were not able to respond to the scene because officers were still securing the house.

Officer Balchunas began to treat the victim by applying a compression dressing to the wound on his left arm and an occlusive chest seal to the gunshot injury on the upper left chest at the victim's heart. Officer Balchunas recognized the immediacy of getting proper medical attention so he supported the victim as they walked toward the ambulance, which was staging further down the street. When the victim collapsed, Officer Balchunas placed him on his shoulder in a fireman's carry position and took him to waiting medic units.

The victim was transported to Sentara Hospital, going into cardiac arrest on the way and being revived by EMTs. From there, he was flown to I NOVA Fairfax Hospital with serious life-threatening injuries. The EMTs and physicians at Sentara Hospital said that if it were not for the actions that Officer Balchunas put forth the victim would have died at the scene.

Officer Balchunas is a certified EMT and a SWAT medic. He has extensive training in first aid. He did not hesitate to use the skills he has learned with precision. In fact, the medical pack that he used in the incident is purchased and supplied using his own funds. Because the wound to the upper left chest nicked the victim's heart, it is likely he would have bled to death without Officer Balchunas' actions.


Prince William County Police Department
Officer Steven R. Mattos, Jr.

On March 23, 2013 at approximately 1739 hours, officers were dispatched to 12530 Sulky Court in Lake Ridge, Virginia. Officer Mattos was first on the scene and observed visible flames and smoke coming from the rear of the residence. Initially, Officer Mattos was advised by witnesses that everyone had escaped the residence. Eventually, he located a crying woman standing slightly down the street speaking on a cell phone. The woman advised that she lived in the residence and that everyone had escaped unharmed. Officer Mattos inquired again, at which time the woman realized that her elderly uncle may still be located inside the basement.

Officer Mattos updated Public Safety Communications Center about the missing man and went to the front door of the house. The door was open and heavy smoke was hanging in the foyer. Officer Mattos announced loudly at the front door telling anybody in the house to come to the sound of his voice. After three announcements without success, Officer Mattos noted flames outside of the windows on the rear of the house but only heavy smoke hanging in the main level. Officer Mattos was concerned the missing man could be trapped in the basement by fire or may already be unconscious from smoke.

Officer Mattos ducked low and entered the residence to locate stairs to the basement. He made announcements as he moved through the house stating, "Police if you hear me yell out!" There was no response as Officer Mattos moved down the stairs and entered the basement.

As he got to a couch in the basement, an elderly man sat up and looked in his direction but it was clear he was half asleep and not focusing. Officer Mattos told the man the house was on fire and they needed to get out but the man didn’t move. He grabbed the man by his shirt, stood him up and physically guided him up the stairs and out the front door. Fire units had not arrived when they emerged and did not arrive for several more minutes.

Officer Mattos initially received erroneous information from the gathering of neighbors. Upon his own initiative he discovered one man was not out of the house and took decisive action. In doing so, Officer Mattos clearly went above and beyond his normal duties and what is expected of a police officer.


Richmond Police Department
Officer David Chandler
Officer Anthony Cornett
Officer Kenneth Jacob
Officer John Raina

Third Precinct Officers David Chandler, Anthony Cornett, Kenneth Jacob and John Raina responded to a call that a man had poured gasoline on himself and throughout his residence. The officers entered the gasoline-soaked house. The odor of gasoline permeated the air.

The officers found the man in an upstairs rear bedroom. They immediately removed a lit cigar from his hand. But he then proceeded to use a lighter to set himself and the room on fire.

The officers quickly worked to contain the fire so that it would not spread and engulf them and the entire house. They also worked to extinguish the flames on the man’s body. Despite suffering smoke inhalation, the officers were able to extinguish the flames and save the man’s life.


Roanoke County Police Department & Roanoke County Fire and Rescue
Officer Eric Austin
Firefighter/EMT Barry Brown

On Saturday, July 6, 2013, within hours after arriving for a family vacation at Holden Beach, North Carolina, Firefighter Barry Brown and Officer Eric Austin, found themselves in a situation of risking their own lives to save others. Brown and Austin heard shouts for help from a small boy and noticed his mother racing into the ocean to save her son. She was overcome by the strong rip tide that was pulling her and her son under water. Brown and Austin immediately entered the water, and worked together to rescue the mother and son, who were about 100 yards away, and pull them to safety.

Holden Beach has no lifeguards and a riptide warning was in effect. There had been reports of four people drowning in the previous couple of days on Brunswick County beaches, two of which were individuals who had attempted to rescue other struggling swimmers caught in rip currents. Without the bravery and quick response by Brown and Austin that number would have possibly been higher.


Suffolk Police Department
Officer Shane Sukowaski

On June 7, 2013, Officer Sukowaski was dispatched to a structure fire. Upon his arrival Officer Sukowaski entered the front door of the building and advised the residents that they needed to evacuate. Officer Sukowaski then proceeded up the stairwell and heard a woman screaming for help. Officer Sukowaski arrived on the second floor where he observed an elderly woman and a man carrying a wheelchair struggling to get down the stairs. Officer Sukowaski assisted them out of the building and the woman advised him that there was another resident trapped inside another apartment on the second floor.

Officer Sukowaski entered the building again and tried to reach the apartment that the woman had advised him of but was unable to due to heavy smoke. He advised dispatch of the trapped resident and during this time was also advised by another resident that there was an elderly man trapped on the third floor who could not walk. Officer Sukowaski proceeded to the third floor where he was able to locate the gentleman. The gentleman advised Officer Sukowaski that he could not walk and was in an electric wheelchair. Officer Sukowaski located a regular wheelchair in the man's apartment and transferred the man from his electric wheelchair to the regular one. When they arrived at the stairwell the buildings security guard met them and assisted Officer Sukowaski in carrying the gentleman to safety.

Due to Officer Sukowaski's quick actions and calm under pressure he was able to help save the lives of numerous citizens.


Virginia State Police
Sergeant Christopher J. Aikens

On April 9, 2013, at 12:32 p.m., a 911 call from a 19-year-old male was transferred to the Virginia State Police Appomattox Division’s Emergency Communications Center. The young man was the passenger in a vehicle that was traveling south on Interstate 81. The vehicle was at the 230 mile marker at Weyers Cave, when its brakes apparently stopped working. According to the teenager, the car was going approximately 60 mph, but would gain and lose speed in accordance with the grade of the interstate.

A Virginia State Police dispatcher stayed on the line with the passenger as troopers responded to the moving vehicle’s location. The dispatcher passed along various solutions for the driver to do in an attempt to get the car stopped. Meanwhile, additional troopers and deputies with the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office were positioning themselves around the car in order to keep other vehicles along I-81 from being struck.

By the time it reached the 218 mile marker, the car had sped up to approximately 110 mph. At approximately 12:45 p.m., near the 218 mile marker, both the driver and passenger leapt from the moving car. Virginia State Police Sgt. C.J. Aikens then positioned his vehicle in front of the Mazda to stop and force it into the guardrail off the left shoulder of the southbound lanes of I-81. The Mazda was traveling at roughly 100 mph when it impacted Aikens’ patrol car.

Amazingly, the 19-year-old driver was not injured, but was taken to Augusta Health as a precautionary measure. The passenger was transported to Augusta Health for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. Sgt. Aikens was treated for non-life threatening injuries at Augusta Health.

Sgt. Aikens recognized the seriousness of the situation and risks this out-of-control vehicle posed not only to these two teenagers, but to every motorist on I-81 that afternoon. His selfless and valiant acts to put an end to this extremely dangerous situation ultimately saved lives.


Virginia State Police
Senior Trooper Paul Domingoes

On September 29, 2013, Virginia State Police Senior Trooper Paul Domingoes was patrolling Interstate 66 in Fauquier County when he was dispatched to a single-vehicle crash with possible entrapment.  When he arrived, several bystanders motioned him to the vehicle, which had crashed down a dangerously steep embankment.  Without hesitation or regard for his own safety, Trooper Domingoes climbed down the embankment to the precariously-positioned vehicle.  While standing on the incline below the crushed vehicle, Sr. Trooper Domingoes assessed the entrapped passenger’s condition, which was severe.  She had sustained a compound fracture to her right arm, dismemberment of her fingers, and severed arterial and brachial arteries, causing massive blood loss.  Prior to the trooper’s arrival, the driver of the vehicle had attempted to use a belt as a tourniquet, but was having difficulty due to his own state of shock from the crash. Sr. Trooper Domingoes instructed the driver to exit the unstable vehicle and climb to safety. Once he was sure the driver could navigate his way up the embankment, the trooper then fastened the belt as a tourniquet on the passenger’s upper arm, applying additional tension to suppress further blood loss. Sr. Trooper Domingoes remained inside the vehicle to stabilize it while continuing to administer First Aid to the woman until an emergency medical crew arrived on scene.

Had Sr. Trooper Domingoes not acted with such a swift and effective response to both the driver and passenger, helped stabilize the vehicle, and expertly administer First Aid, there is little doubt that the woman would have survived her injuries.


Virginia State Police
Trooper Charles A. Lanfranchi, Jr.
Trooper Brandon D. West

Shortly before noon on June 9, 2013, Troopers Charles A. Lanfranchi, Jr., and Brandon D. West were stopped out at the Dumfries Scales along northbound Interstate 95 in Prince William County. As they were monitoring the passing traffic, they witnessed a pickup truck traveling southbound lose control and crash into an utility pole at the entrance to the Dumfries Scales opposite them.

The impact with the utility immediately ignited a fire in the engine compartment and smoke began billowing into the air. Knowing there would be no way to get to the burning truck by patrol car, the two troopers ran the 150 yards through the underground connector tunnel to get to the other weigh station on the southbound side.

Without hesitation, the two approached the burning vehicle and found its driver unresponsive. Despite the flames and heavy smoke, the troopers climbed into the pickup truck and, with the assistance of a citizen, were able to extract and pull the driver to safety.

Trooper West remained with the unconscious victim, treating him for shock and monitoring his vital signs until EMS arrived on scene. Meanwhile, Trooper Lanfranchi and civilian realized the driver’s dog was still inside the burning pickup truck. Again, Trooper Lanfranchi went to the burning vehicle and found the dog unable to escape because it had been securely tied down. Trooper Lanfranchi freed the dog and carried to safety, as well.  Moments later, the truck was engulfed in fire.

Both troopers suffered minor smoke inhalation, but both the driver and his dog fully recovered from the crash and fire. As a direct result of Trooper Lanfranchi’s and Trooper West’s quick and courageous actions, the driver and his dog survived the crash and made full recoveries.


Virginia State Police
Senior Trooper J. D. Stamper


On August 25, 2013, at approximately 7:45 p.m., Senior Trooper J.D. Stamper was on assignment at a highway work zone at the intersection of Route 17(North) and Richmond Beach Road in Essex County.  Sr. Trooper Stamper was outside his patrol car, standing off to the right of the road with two VDOT employees when he observed a pickup truck run off the right side of the road, jump a curb and come careening towards them.  With just a split-second’s notice, Sr. Trooper Stamper pushed one of the individuals out of the path of the oncoming truck and pulled the second man towards him in an attempt to avoid the out-of-control truck. However, the pickup was moving too fast and ran down the two men. The impact with the pickup truck threw Sr. Trooper Stamper to the ground and ripped the VDOT engineer out of his grasp. The man was run over and dragged a short distance. The pickup truck continued back onto Route 17. Despite his severe injuries from having been hit by the truck, Sr. Trooper Stamper still had the fortitude to run to his patrol car and catch up with the pickup truck as it attempted to flee the scene. Sr. Trooper Stamper was able to position his patrol car in front of the pickup to block and stop it.  He then detained the driver until assistance arrived.  Both the VDOT engineer and Sr. Trooper Stamper were transported to area hospitals for treatment of serious injuries.

It was later determined that the 20-year-old pickup truck driver had dropped his cell phone and taken his eyes off the road to pick it up when, in that instant, his vehicle ran off the road. Sr. Trooper Stamper’s immediate and selfless actions ultimately saved all three men’s lives that evening in the Northern Neck. A 24-year veteran of the state police, Sr. Trooper Stamper will be retiring from duty on disability due to the injuries sustained to his hip and lower back.


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The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (www.vachiefs.org) 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 Virginia Police Chiefs Foundation (www.vapolicefoundation.org) is a charitable educational foundation created by the VACP to provide training and education programs for law enforcement leaders.

Contact: Ms. Dana Schrad, Executive Director
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