Liberty Police Officer Honored

| October 4, 2013 | 2:27 pm
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Liberty Police Department Officer Robert Bratcher rescued a family of four trapped in a burning motel room. For his actions, Governor Jay Nixon awarded him the Medal of Valor at a ceremony this week.

It was December 12th when the Days Inn Motel on Highway 291 in Liberty went up in flames. Law enforcement was going door-to-door to evacuate guests, when Bratcher received notice there were people trapped on the second floor. He climbed the stairs with a sheriff’s deputy, then Bratcher crawled down the smoke-filled hallway alone.

He found a man, woman, four-year-old boy, and baby in room 213, all suffering from smoke inhalation. Conditions were rapidly deteriorationg, so the officer picked up the woman, took the four-year-old by the hand, and instructed the man to carry the baby.

They moved to the landing, and crawled back down the hallway, where the deputy helped lead them to safety.

The entire family and both law enforcement officers made it out of the building safely.

Bratcher was one of nine public safety officers to be honored in Jefferson City on Wednesday. The Medal of Valor was established in 2008, and bestowed annually based on recommendations submitted by the Medal of Valor Review Board. It is awarded to one who serves a public agency and has exhibited “exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual switfness of action, regardless of his or her own personal safey, in the attempt to save or protect human life.”

Press Release from the office of Governor Jay Nixon

JEFFERSON CITY – In a ceremony today at the State Capitol, Gov. Jay Nixon awarded the Missouri Medal of Valor to nine public safety officers from across the state for their exceptional bravery and heroism in efforts to save lives and protect the public during 2012. The officers represent Missouri’s fire service, a rural sheriff’s department, urban and suburban police agencies, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. They responded to a variety of challenges and threats: rescuing people from burning buildings and vehicles, and stopping deadly threats posed to others by armed criminals.

“These nine brave men and women represent the highest ideal of the commitment of Missouri’s public safety officers to public service,” Gov. Nixon said. “The circumstances of each heroic, life-saving act were different, but in every instance the officers had to take swift, decisive and courageous action that was focused entirely on protecting the public. They faced dangerous gunmen, went into burning buildings and vehicles, and in one instance even mustered the herculean strength to raise an SUV off a motorist who was perilously close to dying.”

Family members and the officers’ colleagues were on hand for the presentation of Missouri’s highest public safety award during a ceremony in the Governor’s office in the Capitol. Gov. Nixon was joined at the ceremony by Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Lee. The newest Medal of Valor recipients are:

David W. Crank, Missouri State Highway Patrol – On the night of March 10, 2012, Trooper Crank initiated a traffic stop of an SUV on I-55 in New Madrid County. There was a strong odor of raw marijuana in the SUV, which had four occupants. The driver was cooperative and exited the vehicle and accompanied Crank to his patrol car.

Crank returned to the SUV to obtain IDs from the three passengers, but they denied having IDs. Crank then requested backup. When Corporal Jeremy Stewart arrived, he and Crank approached the SUV and requested the passengers exit the vehicle one at a time. One did so. The passenger in the front passenger seat refused to comply and immediately locked the door. Crank saw the front seat passenger reach between the seat and center console. Crank alerted Stewart and drew his service weapon. Stewart opened the driver’s side door and the passenger fired a single shot, striking Stewart in the neck. To protect Corporal Stewart and himself, Trooper Crank fired repeatedly at the passenger, killing the gunman. On a dark highway, in a perilous situation, Trooper Crank acted swiftly to eliminate a deadly threat and protect his wounded colleague. Corporal Stewart underwent surgery, made a full recovery and returned to duty.

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 heard noise 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 Debrecht and 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 hear noise. 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.

Robert D. Bratcher, Liberty Police Department – At about 3 a.m. on Dec. 12, 2012, firefighters, Liberty Police and the Clay County Sheriff’s Department were dispatched to a large fire at the Days Inn Motel on Highway 291 in Liberty. Police and sheriff’s deputies immediately began going door to door to evacuate guests, as some first floor units were completely engulfed in flames and the second floor was covered in thick, dark smoke.

After hearing a family was trapped on the second floor, Bratcher and a sheriff’s deputy climbed the stairs to the second floor. The smoke was so thick the deputy could not go any further. Bratcher crawled to room 213, where he found an infant, a 4-year-old, and a man and woman suffering from smoke inhalation. Realizing that conditions were rapidly deteriorating and that there would soon be no chance of escape, Bratcher picked up the woman, took the 4-year-old by the hand and instructed the man to take the baby. One they were out of the room and on the landing, where the thick smoke had intensified, Bratcher instructed the adults and 4-year-old to crawl to the stairway. At the stairs, the sheriff’s deputy grabbed the infant and helped Bratcher lead the family to safety. Officer Bratcher’s fast action and disregard for his own safety saved the lives of four people.

“Each of these exceptional public safety officers represents the highest ideal of dedicated public service and courage under life-or-death conditions,” Gov. Nixon said. “They not only proved their willingness to put their own lives in jeopardy to protect and save others, they considered it part of their duty. I am pleased to present them with this high honor on behalf of the people of Missouri.”

About the Medal of Valor

The Medal of Valor was first awarded in 2008 and is bestowed annually based on recommendations submitted by the Medal of Valor Review Board. Recipients must serve a public agency, with or without compensation, as a firefighter, law enforcement officer or emergency personnel. The nominating form states the Medal of Valor is awarded “to a public safety officer who has exhibited exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her own personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life.”

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.

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