18 First Responders and 6 Civilians Receive Missouri’s Highest Public Safety Honors
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Today, Governor Mike Parson awarded Missouri Public Safety Medals to a total of 18 first responders and 6 civilians for heroic and live-saving actions in 2018.
The awards are the state’s highest recognitions for first responders working as individuals and as members of teams during critical incidents. The civilians were honored for taking on extreme risks during critical incidents to support first responders and the safety of the public.
“The Missouri first responders we honored today performed heroically, decisively, and with great skill in life-threatening situations, risking their own safety to save lives and protect the public,” Governor Parson said. “They are outstanding examples of the difference committed public safety professionals make in communities across Missouri.”
“The private citizens we honored performed extraordinarily courageous acts,” Governor Parson continued. “They confronted violence, risked being shot to support law enforcement officers, entered a burning building to save a fire victim, and performed heroic, life-saving assistance during the Branson duck boat tragedy. It was truly an honor to stand with all of these heroes today.”
Family members and colleagues were present for the awards presentation during the Jefferson City ceremony. Photos from today’s ceremony are available at governor.mo.gov/eventphotos.
The award recipients and the acts for which they were honored are as follows:
Medal of Valor
Missouri’s highest award recognizing public safety officers who exhibit exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life.
Matthew W. Neely, Missouri State Highway Patrol – On March 19, 2018, Troop H communications broadcast that a man and woman suspected in a residential theft in Ridgeway, Missouri, had just fled in a silver Ford Taurus. Trooper Neely spotted the vehicle southbound on Interstate 35. Before Trooper Neely could attempt to stop the vehicle, the driver exited the interstate and crashed into a utility pole. As Neely arrived on scene, the driver and passenger exited the vehicle with the driver fleeing on foot. Trooper Neely informed the passenger she was under arrest and ordered her to remain with the vehicle. Then, as Neely pursued the driver on foot across an open field, the man turned and fired multiple shots at Trooper Neely. The trooper attempted to take cover as best he could. Once the gunfire stopped, Trooper Neely radioed that shots had been fired and advanced on the gunman while commanding him to drop his weapon. The gunman attempted to re-engage Trooper Neely. The trooper fired several shots, striking the gunman twice and ending the threat. Trooper Neely and another trooper provided first aid until medical assistance arrived. The gunman survived. Despite being fired upon, Trooper Neely exhibited exceptional courage and tenacity by advancing on an armed felon, apprehending him, and ending the threat.
Shawn D. Fields, Stone County Sheriff’s Office – On July 19, 2018, Sergeant Fields was off-duty and working security at the Showboat Branson Belle. At approximately 7 p.m., while Sergeant Fields was on an upper level entry platform, a severe storm with near-hurricane force winds quickly developed. Observing that a tourist duck boat was in trouble as it attempted to return to shore against the 70 mile per hour winds and heavy waves, Fields ran down a set of stairs and across the deck to the back of the showboat, positioning himself beside the paddle wheel. Sergeant Fields notified dispatch that the duck boat was sinking and that he was going into the water in a rescue attempt. Fields removed his duty gear and handed it to a Branson Belle employee. He then stripped down to his pants, grabbed a life jacket and, without concern for his own safety, dived into the turbulent water. Fields helped pull multiple people to safety and, unfortunately, removed several victims who did not survive the tragedy in which 17 people died. In the midst of a dangerous, unrelenting storm, Sergeant Fields took immediate and decisive action. Without specialized equipment, he bravely risked his own life by jumping into roiling Table Rock Lake to save lives.
Jeremy E. Bratton and Kyle B. Schmidt, St. Charles Police Department – On December 28, 2018, at six minutes before midnight, 911 received a desperate call for help. A dispatcher heard gunshots, and then the female caller went silent. As the first St. Charles Police Department officers approached the house where the 911 call originated, a white Chevy pickup was pulling away. Officers radioed a vehicle description. The officers made a forced entry into the locked single family residence and discovered three victims dead from gunshot wounds and a 39-year-old woman mortally wounded. As officers administered first aid to the victim, a shots fired call rang out over the police radio. Officers Bratton and Schmidt had seen the pickup leaving the subdivision and activated their lights and siren. The suspect initially fled, and then stopped. As Officer Bratton shouted verbal commands, the suspect, Richard Emery, fired repeatedly at Officer Bratton. Bratton’s patrol vehicle was hit multiple times, but, miraculously, Bratton was not hit. Officers Bratton and Schmidt returned fire but the gunman was able to flee on foot into the darkness. Police launched a search. A short time later, a woman was stabbed seven times in a failed carjacking attempt. Almost seven and a half hours after the first 911 call, a man was found bleeding profusely in the restroom of a St. Charles gas station. Officers quickly took the wounded Richard Emery into custody. Emery’s abandoned pickup had contained an assault-style rifle, magazines, and boxes of ammunition. Officers Bratton and Schmidt had fearlessly engaged a violent, heavily-armed gunman suspected in four killings. The officers’ shooting and wounding of Emery ultimately led to his capture and the end of the threat to the community.
Awarded to a group of public safety officers in recognition of acts above and beyond the call of normal duty during a critical incident in which the collective performance of the group was essential to the successful resolution of the incident.
Cody B. Ross, Jason M. Huff, Cade A. Thompson, Andrew W. Fritzinger, Missouri Department of Corrections; Richard W. Bashor, Cameron Police Department; and Bradley R. Muck, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop H – At 8 p.m. on May 12, 2018, approximately 209 offenders in two dining halls in the Central Services Building at the Crossroads Correctional Center refused to leave and stated they were staging a protest. The Corrections team notified all housing units to go on lock down, which prevented an escalation to other areas of the facility. Conditions quickly deteriorated when offenders breached the kitchen area, obtained potentially dangerous cooking utensils, and began vandalizing the kitchen. Offenders broke out windows and damaged doors and locks, allowing them to access unsecured areas of the facility and do even more destruction. The correctional center’s food service employees, corrections officers, and other staff were at risk. Corrections Supervisor I (Captain) Ross, Corrections Officer III (Lieutenant) Huff, Corrections Supervisor I (Captain) Thompson, and Corrections Officer III (Lieutenant) Fritzinger acted decisively, first attempting to deescalate the situation and then moving swiftly to evacuate staff members as the threat level increased. Corrections officers bravely put their own safety at risk as they inserted themselves into volatile areas to extricate personnel and remove them from the building. In a turbulent situation that could have easily devolved into chaos, the Corrections team tactically deployed pepper spray and tear gas and secured doors. They helped evacuate and secure 131 surrendering offenders, containing inside the 78 holdouts, who caused extensive structural and property damage. Because of their brave actions, no staff members were injured, and no offenders sustained serious injuries.
Reached at home, Chief Bashor knew the potential for escalation at the prison. While en route to Crossroads, he activated the Cameron Police Department’s tactical team and mobile command center. As more details developed, he requested and received back up from eight sheriff and police departments as well as ambulance and fire departments. The law enforcement officers and Corrections Emergency Response Teams secured the perimeter of the institution. Operating from the incident command center, Chief Bashor received the first phone contact from the offenders and played a critical leadership role throughout the incident. Chief Bashor’s decision to muster over 100 law enforcement officers undoubtedly led to the offenders’ decision not to escalate further.
Trooper Muck, who was part of the Highway Patrol response, reported to the incident command center. Offenders had just made contact with Chief Bashor by phone. Trooper Muck, who had only weeks before completed hostage negotiator training, established rapport over the phone with two unidentified offenders. Working through the night, Trooper Muck listened as the offenders at first shouted their complaints all while gathering information that he relayed to Warden Ronda Pash, including the number of offenders, their locations, and injuries. Remaining calm and in control throughout the disturbance, Trooper Muck continued to establish trust and ultimately got the remaining 78 offenders to return to a dining hall and peacefully end the disturbance. Corrections officers then escorted the offenders to administrative segregation without incident.
Since the incident, Cade A. Thompson has been promoted to Corrections Supervisor II (Major), Andrew W. Fritzinger has been promoted to Corrections Supervisor I (Captain), and Cody B. Ross has retired.
Daniel B. Tscherny, Jason G. Bogema, Tony C. Fields, Joshua W. Bravestone, Zachary L. Keller, Garett L. Olson, Tyler R. Nevins, and Dustin C. Matney, Springfield Fire Department – At approximately 8:15 p.m. on September 7, 2018, during extremely heavy rainfall and flash flooding, Greene County Deputy Sheriff Aaron Paul Roberts radioed that his vehicle had been washed off a road in northern Greene County. The Fair Grove Fire Protection District was dispatched and informed that the vehicle was floating down Cabin Creek in swift water conditions. There had been no further contact with the deputy. Because of its water rescue capabilities, the Springfield Fire Department was immediately requested to assist. High, rushing water from the intense storm had inundated a bridge in the area, and the roiling creek and debris had pushed 100 yards beyond its banks. There was no sight of Deputy Roberts’ vehicle as the flooding worsened. Battling darkness and these dangerous conditions, firefighters and Greene County Sheriff’s deputies began searching for Deputy Roberts. Because the area was so heavily wooded, boating operations were terminated. Aircraft could not assist due to the weather conditions. With the water still rising, a foot search was conducted along both sides of the creek. After more than two hours, Deputy Roberts’ patrol vehicle was spotted about 450 yards downstream. Conditions still prevented boat operations. Despite the lack of contact with Deputy Roberts, the darkness, and extremely dangerous conditions, the Springfield team was determined to reach the vehicle in an effort to rescue the deputy as quickly as possible. In the darkness, the rescue team tied off to trees and utilized rope lines. The effort required a skilled team risking their own lives in a lengthy, highly technical operation. Working as one, the team of Rescue Specialist Tscherny, Captain Bogema, Firefighter Fields, Firefighter Bravestone, Firefighter Keller, Firefighter Olson, Firefighter Nevins, and Firefighter Matney reached the vehicle and recovered the body of Deputy Roberts. The Springfield team was nominated by Fair Grove Fire Department Chief Erich Higgins, who had first established command at the scene and was moved by the team’s courage and concern for a fellow public during the hours-long effort.
Since the incident occurred, Daniel B. Tscherny has been promoted to Lieutenant, Tony C. Fields has been promoted to Rescue Specialist, and Jason G. Bogema has retired.
Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award
Awarded to a civilian who has provided valuable or courageous assistance to members of a Missouri public safety agency in an emergency situation.
Wesley D. Hilton, nominated by Clinton Police Department – On the night of March 6, 2018, Wesley D. Hilton was participating in a citizen ride-along with Clinton Police Officer Nathan Bettencourt. Officer Bettencourt and other officers were dispatched to an unknown disturbance at a residence based on a 911 call. All that could be heard on the call was women yelling at one another, and then line went dead. Upon arriving at the residence, a woman in the front yard said there had been no disturbance, no 911 call, and that no one was inside. Officers initiated a protective safety sweep to confirm no one was injured or in distress. Once inside the residence, officers were ambushed by a man hiding in a bathroom with multiple firearms, including a rifle. Officer Bettencourt and two other Clinton Police officers were struck by gunfire. Bettencourt and another officer returned fire and retreated from the residence. Only later would they learn that Officer Christopher Ryan Morton could not get out of the residence and had been mortally wounded. Officer Bettencourt had been shot twice in the right arm. His wounds were so severe he could not hold his pistol. Officer Bettencourt headed to his patrol car, where Mr. Hilton, without regard for his own safety, left the cover of the vehicle and approached Bettencourt. Hilton applied a tourniquet to Bettencourt’s upper arm, which was bleeding profusely. Officer Bettencourt borrowed a weapon from another officer and joined other officers who engaged the gunman in a firefight as they attempted to reenter the residence to extract Officer Morton, who was no longer responding on his radio. Pinned down by heavy gunfire, the officers were ordered to hold ground until a fully equipped officer rescue team arrived. Mr. Hilton rode with Officer Bettencourt when he was transported by EMS to a local hospital, assisting in removing his body armor so his wounds could be treated. Mr. Hilton stayed with Officer Bettencourt at the hospital and contacted his wife by phone to explain what had occurred. He remained with Officer Bettencourt until he was transferred to a trauma center in Kansas City and continued to visit and support Officer Bettencourt throughout his months-long recovery. After the shooting, it was learned that the 911 system software had misidentified the location of the original call. It has originated 15 miles away from the residence to which the officers had been sent. Of Mr. Hilton’s actions, Officer Bettencourt said, “Wes displayed the calm and bravery of a seasoned combat veteran in the heat of a gunfight and showed thoughtful care for me.” On a tragic night of terrible violence and the loss of Officer Morton, Mr. Hilton’s fast and courageous action helped save the life of Officer Bettencourt.
Catherine J. Stepps, nominated by St. Louis Fire Department – On March 30, 2018, the St. Louis Fire Department responded to a report of a residential structure fire. Smoke was coming from a one-story brick building, which firefighters quickly entered. They conducted a primary search and extinguished a very smoky cooking fire. They found the elderly resident safe outside the home. As firefighters investigated, they discovered that a neighbor, Catherine Stepps, had smelled smoke from inside her neighboring home. She ran toward the residence, jumped a fence, and entered the home. The fire was coming from the kitchen in the rear of the smoky home, so Ms. Stepps covered her face with her shirt to fight the thick smoke. With no firefighting training or protective equipment and without consideration of her own safety, she searched the house and found her elderly neighbor asleep on a couch. Ms. Stepps awakened him and led him out of the house through the smoke. He would tell his rescuer, “Thank you, baby. You’re a life saver.” The responding St. Louis firefighters are convinced that without Ms. Stepps’ fast, heroic response, the man would have been seriously injured or killed.
Tyler Preston, Gabriel Gowen, and Jordan Lambay, nominated by Kirksville Police Department – On the night of June 29, 2018, Kirksville Police officers were dispatched to a domestic assault involving an axe. When officers arrived, they found a woman face down in the street surrounded by blood. She had life-threatening injuries and was airlifted to a hospital for treatment. The officers noticed a civilian holding down another man who was covered in blood. Jordan Lambay, a Truman State University student, was restraining the man who had been wielding the axe. Lambay and fellow Truman State students Gabriel Gowen and Tyler Preston had all helped end the attack and get the victim medical attention. The three students had been in Gowen’s apartment when they heard yelling and screams outside. They saw a man brandishing an axe and the victim trying to defend herself. There were also children screaming for help. While Preston called 911, Gowen and Lambay left the apartment to help the victim. Lambay quickly grabbed the axe and tripped the attacker. Gowen joined the struggle, pulled the axe away, and got it out of the immediate area. Lambay then held the attacker on the ground until police arrived. Kirksville Police believe had Preston, Gowen, and Lambay not responded, the attack would have continued and the victim would have died from her injuries.
Marlin V. Matchett, nominated by Taney County Ambulance District – On July 19, 2018, Mr. Matchett was on the Showboat Branson Belle working as part of the first aid team when a severe storm with high winds and heavy waves sank a tourist duck boat near the showboat. Mr. Matchett, a trained paramedic with decades of EMS experience, quickly called for additional help. He then began rescuing victims by pulling them from the water onto the showboat. Using his extensive EMS experience, he helped triage the injured and also coordinated and directed other civilians who were working to assist the terrified victims. When a young victim was in cardiac arrest, Mr. Matchett performed CPR until ambulance personnel arrived and took over the desperate and ultimately unsuccessful effort. During a catastrophic event, Mr. Matchett heroically worked to help save multiple lives.
Nominations are now open for heroic acts performed during 2019 and must be received by February 29, 2020. The nominating form is available on the Missouri Department of Public Safety website at https://dps.mo.gov/medal/.