On Tuesday, April 29th, Prince William Chamber of Commerce held its 28th Annual Valor Awards Ceremony at The Clubs at Quantico Crossroads Event Center in Quantico. The ceremony honored the dedication and professionalism of public safety members who do an outstanding, yet often, thankless job, in keeping us safe and secure so we may continue with our daily lives.
Among those honored were members of Prince William County Police Department, City of Manassas Police Department, Virginia Department of State Police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department and Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue.
Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue were recipients of the following Valor Awards:
Merit Award 2014 - Captain Tom Clark
Captain Tom Clark was at a railroad crossing, several cars behind the upright gates when he noticed a vehicle sitting on the tracks and facing the opposite direction. Hearing the train whistle, indicating an oncoming train and thinking the vehicle had broken down on the tracks, Clark got out of his car and approached the vehicle to find the driver sitting inside and looking at the oncoming train. When asked what he was doing, the driver stated that he wanted to kill himself.
Captain Clark instructed the driver to get off the tracks immediately as the train was approximately 50 yards away. When asked if it was illegal to kill yourself, Captain Clark said "yes," and that the driver needed to get off the tracks. He told the man to pull into a nearby driveway to talk about it. The driver did as instructed and Captain Clark called 911 to report the intended suicide and waited with the driver for police to arrive.
When County Police and the Railroad Police Officer arrived they took the man into custody and examined his vehicle, finding a substantial amount of high-powered ammunition in the car. Responding officers told Captain Clark that the individual decided to drive off of the tracks because "a person of authority told him to get off of the tracks."
Clark recognized the danger this situation could have posed, not only to the person in the car, but to others nearby if the intended suicide had resulted in a collision with the train and subsequent explosion. With no hesitation, he approached a vehicle stopped on the railroad tracks with a train approaching at approximately 40 mph to see if he could be of assistance, not knowing who or what was inside the vehicle. It was later made known that there was no way the train would have been able to stop. For demonstrated self-motivation and authoritative action, disregarding his own personal safety, Captain Tom Clark of the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue received the Merit Award.
Investigative Merit Award - Lieutenant Dave Cooper, Prince William County Fire Marshal's Office; Lieutenant Brad Miller, Prince William County Fire Marshal's Office; Lieutenant Angel Tyson, Prince William County Fire Marshal's Office; Supervising Special Agent Steve Avato, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Special Agent Chad Campanell, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Special Agent Paul Parisi, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Detective Saemi Kitchens, Prince William County Police; Detective Maria Cervantes, Prince William County Police; Detective Jason Callahan, Prince William County Police; Crime Analyst Dawn Locke-Trillhaase, Prince William County Police; Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Claiborne Richardson, Prince William County; and Special Agent Keith Palli, Federal Bureau of Investigation
At 4:45 a.m. public safety units responded to a reported structure fire at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Gainesville. It took approximately one hour to get the heavy smoke and fire under control. No one was injured in the fire but the building had damages amounting to over $500,000. The building was deemed unsafe to occupy and church leaders had to move to an alternate location for services.
Fire investigators from the Prince William County Fire Marshal's Office proceeded with an investigation into the origin and cause of the fire. Resources were requested from Prince William County Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assist in the investigation. It was determined that the fire was deliberately set, and a tip from a concerned citizen aided in developing a person of interest.
Lt. Dave Cooper, Lt. Angel Tyson and Lt. Brad Miller assisted by Special Agent Chad Campanell and Special Agent Paul Parisi working exhaustively to obtain information regarding the activities of their person of interest before, during and after the fire. This person would not cooperate in interviews and eventually fled the Northern Virginia area. Undeterred, the investigators proceeded to coordinate a cohesive, multi-agency investigation with strategic input and guidance from Prince William County Assistant
Commonwealth Attorney Claiborne Richardson and Supervising Special Agent Steve Avato. The primary investigators assisted by Detective Maria Cervantes, Detective Saemi Kitchens and Detective Jason Callahan proceeded to gather case information through structured interviews, court orders, search warrants, and other legal means in their persistent efforts to obtain the facts and circumstances surrounding this case.
Throughout the course of this investigation, Crime Analyst Dawn Locke-Trillhaase provided invaluable information regarding the person of interest and his known affiliates by continuously accessing her broad range of intelligence resources and submitting the results to the investigative team.
Through relentless collective efforts by the investigators and detectives sufficient evidence was developed to obtain a felony arrest warrant for the crime of arson just four and a half months later. Investigators were now tasked with locating and apprehending the accused party. Through intensive intelligence, including the usage of informants, it was ascertained that the accused person intended to return to the Northern Virginia area. Covert surveillance was initiated and an arrest team was assembled. After close coordination, the accused was arrested without incident and charged with felony arson.
After the arrest, time-sensitive search warrants were obtained and executed at various locations throughout the County. It was learned that the accused had an interest in an obscure ideology that potentially provided motivation to maliciously burn the church. Special Agent Keith Palli and his colleagues along with Lt. Tyson performed extensive research on this ideology that led to a complicated affidavit for search warrants with the assistance of ACA Claiborne. The magistrate authorized three search warrants which were immediately executed. Special Agent Palli also served as a contributing member and liaison for the FBI, attended key case briefings, assisted with the execution of a search warrant and assisted with critical witness interviews.
The ATF personnel provided support for the entire investigation that included assisting with the preliminary origin and cause, pursuing leads and developing evidence, additionally coordinating the use of the ATF Fire Research Laboratory in Maryland to expedite evidence processing, and facilitating briefs for the United States Attorney in the case that federal charges were pursued.
Detective Kitchens, the case agent for the police criminal investigation, obtained and executed search warrants for the suspect's residence and DNA. Kitchens also obtained felony arrest warrants on behalf of the Prince William County Police Department.
As a result of collaborative and persistent efforts by investigators and detectives, a compelling circumstantial case was constructed, which led to the accused entering a guilty plea in Prince William County Circuit Court. Serving as lead prosecutor for the case, ACA Richardson did an exceptional job of representing the Commonwealth Attorney's Office and protecting the citizens of Prince William County.
Investigators and detectives had to overcome many challenges to bring this case to a conclusion. Due to the destructive nature of fire, there was a limited amount of physical evidence recovered from the scene that connected the perpetrator to the crime. Investigators had to resort to a seamless, systemic, and methodical investigation using all available tools and resources to build this case in preparation for criminal prosecution. The successful arrest, apprehension, and prosecution of the accused would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, without the personal sacrifices and the collaborative, relentless cohesive team effort demonstrated by each of these personnel from many different agencies. Because of their selfless dedication to seeing this case through to completion, Lt. Dave Cooper, Prince William County Fire Marshal's Office; Lt. Brad Miller, Prince William County Fire Marshal's Office; Lt. Angel Tyson, Prince William County Fire Marshal's Office; Supervising Special Agent Steve Avato, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Special Agent Chad Campanell, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Special Agent Paul Parisi, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Detective Saemi Kitchens, Prince William County Police; Detective Maria Cervantes, Prince William County Police; Detective Jason Callahan, Prince William County Police; Crime Analyst Dawn Locke-Trillhaase, Prince William County Police; Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Claiborne Richardson, Prince William County; and Special Agent Keith Palli, Federal Bureau of Investigation received the Investigative Merit Award.
Bronze Medal 2014 – Captain Jason Reese & Captain Brian Ferguson
While testing driving several boats at Great Falls with members of the Swift Water Rescue Team of the Council of Governments, Captains Jason Reese and Brian Ferguson and two Fairfax City Fire and Rescue Technicians Kyle Craven and Bill Pittard noticed a group of four people lying on the rocks near the river, an area of strong currents and deadly undertows capable of sweeping people out into the white water current.
As they returned to the docking area, they were notified that four people were in the water in need of rescue. Montgomery County Safety Boat made one rescue, and crew member Pittard stayed with this victim to render emergency care. The remaining crew was then directed to the area in which a female was clinging to a rock in the water. Captain Reese made voice contact with the female victim and continued to talk to her in order to keep the victim calm and to keep the victim from getting into an even more perilous position. Captain Ferguson then moved the boat into a position to rescue the victim from the rock.
Using quick action and calming demeanor while piloting an unfamiliar swift water rescue boat, they were able to prevent further injury or loss of life for four citizens. For their part in this heroic rescue, Captain Jason Reese and Captain Brian Ferguson of the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue received the Bronze Medal for Valor.
*Visit the Department's web site at www.pwcgov.org/fire click on News and Information, Awards and 2014 to view photos of the recipients.