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Virginia Police Chiefs Recognize Twenty-Eight Officers with 2016 Awards for Lifesaving

September 16, 2016 | VACP

Twenty-eight Virginia public safety officers are the recipients of the 2016 Awards for Lifesaving presented by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police & Foundation (VACP). The awards will be announced September 20 at the VACP Annual Conference in Roanoke, Virginia, and awarded at a later date at ceremonies at the officers’ agencies.

Chesterfield County Police Department
Officer Chad M. Byerly
Officer Gabriel C. Percival
Officer Randall W. Sykes

On January 17, 2016, at about 3:15 a.m., Officer Gabriel C. Percival responded to a house fire in the 3400 block of Wicklow Lane.  When officers arrived, the house was fully engulfed in flames. Officer Percival climbed onto the rear deck and tried to enter the house, but was stopped by thick smoke and flames. Through a window, he was able to speak with a man in a back bedroom. The man was a paraplegic and confined to his bed, and Officer Percival could not enter because of heavy smoke. As the fire spread, Officer Percival became trapped on the deck by the flames and was forced to jump to safety. Officer Chad M. Byerly and Officer Randall W. Sykes, who had since arrived on scene, were able to catch him as he jumped.

A neighbor on scene entered the home’s basement and told officers that others may be inside. Officer Percival followed the neighbor to prevent him from going further into the house, and Officers Byerly and Sykes followed to help look for additional occupants. The officers found two sleeping adults, and quickly woke them and got them to safety. Both victims survived with no injuries. The officers then cleared the bottom floor of the house and attempted to go upstairs, but were again blocked by heavy smoke and flames.

The first man Officer Percival attempted to rescue was pulled alive from the house by fire personnel, but later passed away. Tragically, five people perished in the fire. These officers without a doubt saved the lives of the two people in the basement. The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is proud to recognize Officers Chad M. Byerly, Gabriel C. Percival, and Randall W. Sykes with the 2016 VACP Award for Lifesaving.

Prince William County Police Department  
Sergeant Christopher Moore
Officer Kelly Anderson
Officer Brandon Angeloff
Officer Stacie Bronisz
Officer Kaleb Comer
Officer Brandon Fields
Officer Rhonda Fields
Officer Mike Flynn
Officer Daniela Garavito
Officer Kenny Hansen
Officer Aaron Lintz
Officer Randy Johnston
Officer Walter O’Neal
Officer Nelson Rocha
Officer Brandon Rutherford
Officer Kristin Sims
Officer Amon Weaver
Officer Susan White

On February 27, 2016, Prince William County Police Officers David McKeown and Jesse Hempen, along with new Officer Ashley Guindon, responded to a report of a domestic disturbance and were quickly ambushed and shot at the doorway by the male resident who was armed with an assault rifle and a handgun. After shooting the officers, the suspect retreated further in to his residence with what Officers McKeown and Hempen believed to be an intention to further harm others in the area or to retrieve additional weapons to continue his murderous assault on them or on other responding officers. These eighteen Prince William County police officers responded to the “officer down” calls from Officers Hempen and McKeown and placed themselves at great personal risk to rescue and provide medical aid to their wounded comrades, while the suspect remained a barricaded, armed threat.

Officers Kristin Sims, Aaron Lintz, Amon Weaver, Kelly Anderson, Stacie Bronisz, Kenny Hansen and Brandon Fields used as much cover and concealment as was available and assembled a rescue team to reach the disabled and critically injured McKeown, who was closest to the suspect’s home. This rescue team applied medical aids contained in their trauma kits and quickly improvised to drag Officer McKeown down the block to the safety of responding medical transport vehicles.

Officers Kaleb Comer, Brandon Angeloff, Daniela Garavito, Susan White, and Mike Flynn assembled a rescue team to reach Officer Guindon, who was gravely wounded and lying in the front yard of the home. They utilized trauma kits to attempt to care for her injuries and carried her down the block to the safety of responding medical transport vehicles.

Officers Brandon Rutherford, Rhonda Fields, Nelson Rocha, Randy Johnston, and Walter O’Neal, and Sgt. Christopher Moore assembled a rescue team to reach the critically injured Officer Hempen, who had concealed himself behind a nearby car.  They used their trauma kits to provide emergency treatment to his wounds and relayed him down the block to responding medical transport vehicles.

The scene they arrived on was horrific and these officers placed themselves in great peril from a suspect who demonstrated no hesitation to shoot human beings, in attempts to save the lives of their fellow officers. They did it with extreme courage and quick and decisive action, which allowed all three wounded officers a chance at survival by trained medical personnel. For their heroic actions, these eighteen officers are recognized with the 2016 VACP Award for Lifesaving.

Prince William County Police Department
Officer Sarah A. Colon
Officer Gonzalo Gracia

On January 1, 2016, Officer Sarah Colon was on routine patrol in the western district of Prince William County when she observed a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. The driver approached an intersection, disregarded the red traffic signal, then lost control of his vehicle and struck the traffic signal pole in the median. The impact caused the vehicle to continue traveling into oncoming lanes of traffic and crash into another vehicle. Both vehicles became engulfed in flames with the drivers trapped inside the cars.

Officer Colon and Officer Gonzalo Gracia quickly arrived on scene. Both officers first extracted the driver from the vehicle that was hit and moved her to a nearby business to wait for rescue personnel. As the officers approached the other vehicle, they noticed that the driver was trapped inside and his body was covered in fire. The fire was also starting to spread throughout the inside of the vehicle. Officer Gracia retrieved a fire extinguisher, and sprayed the driver to extinguish the fire. Officer Colon then opened the door of the burning vehicle and both officers extracted the driver as the interior and exterior of the vehicle became completely engulfed with flames. Both drivers were immediately transported to medical facilities for treatment. While the driver who was hit recovered from her injuries, unfortunately, the driver who sustained critical burns did not survive.

Officer Colon and Officer Gracia are commended for their quick actions and rescue of the drivers who were trapped inside their burning vehicles. The officers did not hesitate to place themselves in harm's way to save the lives of these citizens. The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is proud to recognize them with the 2016 VACP Award for Lifesaving.

Richmond Police Department
Master Police Officer Sarah Campbell

On January 2, 2015, Officer William Turner responded to a call from RBHA for help with an emotionally disturbed individual. Almost immediately upon his arrival, the individual produced a concealed handgun and began firing at Officer Turner.

Officer Turner was able to radio in that he had been struck by gunfire and needed assistance. Officer Sarah Campbell arrived shortly after the exchange of gunfire occurred and, realizing the seriousness of Officer Turner’s injuries, immediately took him to VCU Medical Trauma Center. While en route, Officer Campbell calmly kept dispatch advised of Turner’s condition and the situation for officers responding to the scene of the shooting.

Officer Campbell’s decision to immediately transport Officer Turner to the hospital was critical to saving his life and aiding in his recovery. For these quick actions, she is honored with the 2016 VACP Award for Lifesaving.

Richmond Police Department
Officer Andrew Nicholson

On May 2, 2015, while working on another call for service, Officer Andrew Nicholson heard what sounded like a motor vehicle crash. A sport utility vehicle had crashed head on into a power pole, which was now leaning with a sparking transformer dangling mere feet above the vehicle.

Officer Nicholson initially gave verbal commands for the driver to exit the vehicle and get away from the power lines, but the driver did not respond. Despite warnings from bystanders, Officer Nicholson rushed in to provide aid to the unresponsive driver. As he started to pull the driver from the vehicle, the electrical transformer exploded and produced a rain of fire and sparks around the officer, victim, and crash scene. Officer Nicholson was able to drag the victim approximately 50 yards from the danger zone and place him on his side in a recovery position to await medical treatment and transport. Officer Nicholson then continued to manage the scene, ensuring the safety of the bystanders and arriving units.

Officer Nicholson put himself in the midst of a very dangerous situation to rescue the driver at risk to his own personal safety. His bravery and professionalism in a chaotic situation made a huge difference in the outcome of the call and the well-being of the victim, who ultimately recovered from the events of the crash.

Officer Nicholson's fortitude to continue carrying out his professional duties after having risked his own life to stave off further harm to the victim is outstanding and commendable. The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is proud to recognize Officer Andrew Nicholson with the 2016 VACP Award for Lifesaving.

Virginia Beach Police Department
Officer Steven R. Brown
(now with NCIS)

On May 20, 2015, Virginia Beach police officers were dispatched to a call for two women who had their wallets and cell phones taken from them at gun point by two male suspects. Both suspects were reportedly armed with handguns. Officers responded to the scene and ran an electronic trace of the victim’s phone, locating it at a shopping center.

Officer Steven R. Brown pulled up to the shopping center and went into the wireless phone store for any evidence relating to the robbery. As Officer Brown approached the front door, he discovered it was locked and saw a Hispanic male matching the description of the robbery suspect get up while holding a black handgun. The suspect then immediately grabbed another black male and put the gun to his head. Officer Brown reported over his police radio that he had an apparent hostage situation in progress. Due to the fact he was unable to make entry into the store, he retreated to his patrol vehicle for cover.

Officer Bradley S. Colas responded to the scene to assist Brown. The suspect then exited the front of the business, holding a man hostage at gunpoint. Commands were given to drop the gun and to release the hostage. The suspect pulled the hostage closer and told the officers, if they moved, he was going to shoot the hostage. The suspect kept his back to the business and side-stepped, using the hostage as a human shield while holding a gun with his right hand pointed at the man’s head. Officers were unable to engage the suspect due to not having a clear shot.

The suspect made it to the corner of the business and moved out of sight. Officer Colas initiated a foot pursuit with the suspect. Colas observed that the hostage had been released, and then continued to chase the suspect through the parking lot. As the suspect was running, he turned over his left shoulder and pointed a gun at Officer Colas and fired a shot. Officer Colas continued to give chase as the suspect turned down a dark alley. After a failed attempt at jumping a fence, the suspect turned with the gun in his hand. Fearing for his life, Officer Colas discharged his service weapon, striking the suspect.

Officer Brown caught up with Officer Colas, who was holding the suspect at gun point. The two officers then noticed blood on the suspect’s shirt and gave commands for the suspect to move backwards towards them. The suspect complied, but immediately collapsed. Officer Brown and Colas approached with caution and took him into custody. Officer Brown immediately began giving medical aid and called for additional units to bring medical supplies. Additional officers responded and they were successful in stopping the bleeding. Once EMS was on scene, the officers briefed them of the nature of injuries and what they had done to aid the person. Medical professionals would later provide statements directly attributing the officers’ lifesaving care with the man’s ultimate recovery from his wounds.

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is proud to recognize former Virginia Beach Police Officer Steven R. Brown with the 2016 VACP Award for Lifesaving.

Virginia State Police
Trooper Christopher T. Grzelak

On May 1, 2015, Trooper Christopher Grzelak was conducting stationary radar in Prince William County on Interstate 95 when he observed a motorcycle traveling at an excessive rate of speed. The trooper also observed the motorcycle was equipped with an illegal exhaust system. When motorcycle took the exit ramp for Route 123, Trooper Grzleak notified Fairfax Division Dispatch that he was in pursuit. At one point, he lost sight of the sport bike because of its speed of 80 to 90 mph. Within a minute, Trooper Grzelak caught up with the motorcycle just in time to witness it split the traffic at a Fairfax County intersection. A pickup truck was making a left turn at the stoplight and the motorcycle failed to stop in time, striking the pickup on the driver’s side.

The impact of the crash caused the motorcycle to burst into flames and catch the adjoining pickup truck on fire. The motorcyclist, a 27-year-old Woodbridge man, was pinned underneath the burning bike and was unable to move due to the severity of the injuries sustained in the crash.

Without hesitation or thought for his own safety, Trooper Grzelak rushed to the man’s aid and reached into the flames to pull him out from underneath the motorcycle. The man’s legs were on fire at this point. Once freed from the wreckage, the Trooper used his own hands to put out the fire in an effort to save the motorcyclist from further injury.

Seeing the man was not breathing or responsive, Trooper Grzelak cleared the man’s airway in an attempt to help him breathe. A rescue squad arrived within a minute or two and the EMTs were able to continue their life-saving efforts. Unfortunately, the motorcyclist’s injuries and burns were too severe and he succumbed to his injuries three days later at the hospital.

Trooper Grzelak demonstrated exceptional valor in his extreme efforts to do everything he could in order to save this man’s life. Despite great risk to himself, Trooper Grzelak reached into the flames to pull the man to safety and then put the flames out in an effort to keep the man from burning alive. The Trooper’s selfless actions resulted in himself suffering minor burns to his own hands.

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is proud to recognize Virginia State Police Trooper Christopher Grzelak with the 2016 VACP Award for Lifesaving.

Virginia State Police
Supervisory Special Agent Stephen M. Rusher

On the afternoon of September 22, 2015, Supervisory Special Agent Stephen M. Rusher witnessed a sport utility vehicle run off the roadway and strike a metal support pole for an overhead message board. The special agent immediately notified dispatch of the crash and pulled over to render aid to the driver.

The impact of the crash had crushed the entire front end of the vehicle, pinning the semi-conscious male driver against the dashboard. The vehicle and the grass underneath it also had caught fire. Special Agent Rusher ran back to his state vehicle to retrieve his fire extinguisher in an attempt to put out the spreading flames.

By now, several other motorists had pulled over to assist and also used their fire extinguishers. Their united efforts doused the flames. With the help of the bystanders, Special Agent Rusher worked to open the vehicle’s doors. At one point, a rear door was opened, and as the group attempted to remove debris to rescue the driver, flames erupted from under the driver’s seat.

Special Agent Rusher used the remainder of the contents of his fire extinguisher on this latest blaze. It appeared as if the fire was temporarily suppressed, though smoking heavily. Other rescuers had broken the front window out of the crashed vehicle and aided Special Agent Rusher with working to free the trapped driver. Despite a bystander begging him and another rescuer to get away from the burning vehicle, Special Agent Rusher refused to let the man burn alive. He jumped back onto the guardrail and yelled for help. Another rescuer jumped up beside the special agent and the two worked vigorously to dislodge the driver and pull him through the window.

The flames were now consuming the interior of the vehicle. Due to the extreme heat, Special Agent Rusher and the other rescuer were not able to lean in far enough to free the man. At this point, the driver had regained consciousness, but both of his legs were broken and he was unable to push himself up and out. Special Agent Rusher pulled as hard as he could one final time. He was able to jerk the victim’s upper torso towards the window. Despite the agent yelling for the driver to move with him, in the confusion of the fire and smoke, the victim pulled back. The flames had now reached the top of the window and an intense burst of heat knocked Special Agent Rusher backwards off the guardrail. When Special Agent Rusher turned around, he discovered the driver had managed to drag his lower torso out the window and had fallen to the ground.

The Special Agent rushed to the aid of the driver and with the help of other rescuers dragged the man away from the SUV, which was engulfed in fire seconds later. The driver survived the crash and fire, despite 21% of his body being severely burned and suffering extreme trauma to his legs and feet. Special Agent Rusher suffered blisters from exposure to the fire, and minor cuts and bruises from the broken glass and debris. If it had not been for Special Agent Rusher’s determination and dedication to duty, the man would have perished in the fire.

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is proud to recognize Virginia State Police Supervisory Special Agent Stephen M. Rusher with the 2016 VACP Award for Lifesaving.


The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police & Foundation ( is a statewide charitable organization of federal, state and local police chiefs and other law enforcement executives dedicated to improving the professionalism of police agencies in Virginia and to providing training and education programs for law enforcement executives. The Association was founded in 1926 and has more than 600 members.

Contact: Ms. Dana Schrad, Executive Director
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