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7 St. Louis area public safety officers awarded Medal of Valor

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO. (KTVI) – Wednesday, Governor Jay Nixon awarded 7 St. Louis area public safety officers for their bravery in saving lives in 2012.  A ceremony was held in Jefferson City were the governor presented each officer the Missouri Medal of Valor.

Family and colleagues of each officer were on hand for the ceremony, along with former St. Louis County Police Chief Jerry Lee, who is now Missouri’s Public Safety Director.

Awarded medals were:

  • Angela N. Hawkins and Michael W. Betz, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
  • Thomas M. Kenyon, O’Fallon Police Department
  • Michael W. Vernon, Florissant Police Department
  • Kevin A. Bacon, West County EMS and Fire Protection District
  • Gerad G. Gonzalez, Manchester Police Department
  • Jared W. Debrecht, Iron County Sheriff’s Department

The Medal of Valor has been awarded annually since 2008 and based on the recommendations of the Medal of Valor Review Board.

Nominations are now open for acts performed during 2013 and must be received by March 31, 2014. The nominating form is available on the Missouri Department of Public Safety Web site at http://www.dps.mo.gov/documents/MedalofValorForm.pdf.

Below is a summary of the 2012 Medal of Valor winners heroism:

Angela N. Hawkins and Michael W. Betz, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department – On the night of March 29, 2012, detectives Hawkins and Betz were traveling in an unmarked police vehicle when they heard multiple gunshots not far from their location in north St. Louis. As they moved quickly to investigate, the detectives heard additional gunshots and in the distance saw a suspect running from a uniformed police officer as the two exchanged gunfire. The two detectives pursued the gunman in their vehicle into an alley, where he collapsed to the ground. As they stopped about 30 feet from the downed gunman, he pointed a large gun with an extended magazine at detectives Hawkins and Betz. Hawkins fired five shots at the gunman, killing him and ending the threat. It was later learned that the gunman’s extensive criminal history included murder and armed criminal action charges.

Thomas M. Kenyon, O’Fallon Police Department – At about 2:15 a.m. on April 18, 2012, Police Officer Kenyon was dispatched to a residence for a disturbance involving a man on drugs with a weapon. Upon arrival, Kenyon observed a naked man viciously assaulting a woman. Kenyon’s presence immediately ended the assault – which had included a large club spiked with metal – and distracted the attacker from the victim. As Kenyon tried to engage the enraged man, he suddenly charged the officer; Kenyon discharged his Taser but to no effect. Kenyon and the man struggled violently, with the man striking Kenyon in the head, biting him in the face and forcing him to the ground. The man jumped on Kenyon’s back, choked him and punched him in the head, threatening to kill him. The man repeatedly attempted to get Kenyon’s duty weapon. Kenyon, concerned that he would lose consciousness, removed his service weapon and fired over his left shoulder at the gunman, striking him in the arm. The man stumbled backward, but again charged Kenyon, forcing the officer to fire a second time, striking the man in the leg. Officer Kenyon had bravely ended the attack, inserted himself into harm’s way and risked his own life to end a threat to the public.

Michael W. Vernon, Florissant Police Department – In the early morning hours of May 28, 2012, Florissant police officers responded to a residential burglar alarm call and discovered the rear door of a home had been forced open. Officers at the scene observed a suspect fleeing toward a shopping center. Officer Vernon responded to the shopping center and noticed an article of clothing near a dumpster. While investigating, he heardnoise coming from the dumpster. As Vernon turned toward the dumpster, the lid opened and a gunman fired multiple shots, hitting the officer in the right shoulder, lower left leg and the spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down. The suspect then fled on foot. Despite his extensive wounds and bleeding profusely, Officer Vernon managed to relay a detailed description and direction of travel to officers. They were able to seal off a nearby subdivision and capture the armed and extremely dangerous gunman. Michael Vernon remains paralyzed and has retired from the police department.

Kevin A. Bacon, West County EMS and Fire Protection District – On July 29, 2012, Firefighter/Paramedics Bacon and Cody Jennemann responded to a vehicle crash in which an SUV ran off the highway, rolled, and ended up overturned and on fire in the backyard of a residence. Bacon went to the aid of the driver as Jennemann went to the front of the house to direct incoming firefighters with the necessary equipment. The driver was partially ejected and trapped under the vehicle as the fire encroached on the passenger compartment. The driver had no pulse and was not breathing. The fire was growing larger and time running out. Bacon, without regard for his own safety, entered the extremely hazardous fire area, managed to lift the overturned vehicle from the victim and roll it onto its side. Bacon then pulled the patient away from the fire. Bacon and Jennemann began advanced life support intervention, resuscitating the patient. He was transported to a hospital and, amazingly, made a complete recovery. Firefighter/Paramedic Bacon’s heroic efforts undoubtedly saved the man’s life.

Gerad G. Gonzalez, Manchester Police Department – On Aug. 14, 2012, while patrolling, Officer Gonzalez arrived at the scene of a serious vehicle crash at the intersection of Carman and Dougherty Ferry roads in Manchester. He found two heavily damaged SUVs, one fully engulfed in fire with flames rising 20 feet in the air. Gonzalez requested assistance and ran to aid the occupants of the two vehicles. The driver of the burning vehicle had gotten out on her own, so Gonzalez turned his attention to the other vehicle. With the fire raging and in danger of spreading to this vehicle, Gonzalez and a civilian tried to rescue the driver, who was a large man and was unconscious. Because the flames and heat made it impossible to get to the driver through the driver’s door, Gonzalez quickly entered from the front passenger’s door, and was able to pull the unresponsive driver over the center console. With automobile glass shattering from the heat, Gonzales and the civilian raced to pull the victim out of the vehicle and away from the encroaching fire. The victim survived and was taken to a hospital. By battling through the smoke and intense fire and ignoring the risk of an explosion, Officer Gonzalez was responsible for saving the man’s life.

Jared W. Debrecht, Iron County Sheriff’s Department – Just before 1 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2012, Deputy Debrecht was dispatched to a mobile home fire to assist the Pilot Knob Fire Protection District. A trainee was riding with Debrechtand the two were first on the scene. When radio traffic made it clear the fire department was having trouble finding the residence, Debrecht instructed the trainee to drive the patrol car to Highway 21 to direct fire responders. In the meantime, as flames and thick smoke were coming from the entrance to the home, a woman shouted that her husband was trapped inside. Knowing that firefighters were delayed, and without breathing apparatus or protective gear, Debrecht entered the smoke-filled trailer on his knees and crawled toward the front, where he could hearnoise. He continued to call out the victim’s name, but did not get a response. The fire was growing. Eventually, he saw a man appear and then disappear around a corner. Debrecht then saw the victim’s arm near the floor, as if he were searching for a way out. Debrecht grabbed the arm and was able to slowly drag the victim back to the rear of the trailer and outside. Once outside, Debrecht and the victim’s wife got the victim away from the burning mobile home, which was now fully engulfed in flames. The victim was treated and made a full recovery because of Deputy Debrecht’s willingness to courageously battle smoke and fire without protection.  

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