Culpeper Star-Exponent: Heroes gather for fourth annual Valor Awards


Business and community leaders filled a Culpeper firehall Wednesday night to celebrate first responders and public service workers.

The event was the fourth annual Valor Awards, hosted by the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce at Salem Volunteer Fire Department. A major thunderstorm swept the area before 6 p.m., forcing the firehouse to run on a backup generator, but the festivities carried on as steadily as the hands of those being honored.

Chamber CEO Jeff Say kicked off the ceremony. Say welcomed everyone and lauded the efforts of first responders and public service personnel, whom he said often are taken for granted. He turned the podium over to Chad Melton, CEO of Fauquier Health, the event’s signature sponsor, who delivered a brief address. The Rev. John Hemming, pastor of Culpeper United Methodist Church, led people in prayer.

Honorees and guests alike were then treated to supper, catered by Pepper’s Grill.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, attended the event to congratulate the honorees. During and after the ceremony, she individually thanked the award recipients for their service and their commitment to the community.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and state Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, sent congratulatory letters. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate for Virginia governor, sent Melissa Robey, a staff member from his law-enforcement coalition.

State Del. Nick Freitas had planned to come, but sent a note yesterday that he was unable to attend, Say said.

Culpeper town Councilmen Frank Reaves and Jon Russell, both running for Culpeper mayor, were present, as were Vice Mayor Billy Yowell and Town Council members Pranas Rimeikis and Meaghan Taylor. Representing the county Board of Supervisors were Chairman Gary Deal and members Jack Frazier and Paul Bates. Town Council candidates Fred Sapp, Joe Short, David Culligan and Wes Mayles were also present. County Commissioner of the Revenue Terry Yowell attended, as well as Missy White, Treasurer.

After dinner, WJMA radio’s Frank Wells assumed hosting duties. He started by presenting appreciation awards to 14 organizations, with a video introducing each group.

Those honored were the Culpeper County Volunteer Fire Department, Brandy Station Volunteer Fire Department, Richardsville Volunteer Fire Department & Rescue Squad, Salem Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Little Fork Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Rapidan Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Culpeper County Volunteer Rescue Squad, Culpeper County Office of Emergency Services, Reva Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Culpeper E911 Dispatch, Culpeper County Animal Control, Culpeper Town Police Department, Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police.

Little Fork Fire & RescueSix members of Little Fork Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company were recognized for rescuing a horse that had fallen in a creek bed in Spotsylvania County.

The rescue took place on the evening of April 17, with Chief Doug Monaco leading the team. Assistant Chief Mike Strawderman, Lt. Melissa Mainville, firefighter/EMT Brian Dowell, firefighter James Verrocchio and EMT student Brittany Finnegan were the other members.

The team used rigging attached to a tractor to successfully extract the horse from the creek bed. It managed to accomplish the feat with no injuries despite cold temperatures and waning daylight.

“The crew placed themselves in immediate risk to try and save this horse,” the ceremony’s program stated. “They went into action and performed the rescue on this very cold and weak animal.”

Culpeper Volunteer Rescue SquadAlex Komar, a paramedic, received the Culpeper County Volunteer Rescue Squad’s Valor award for her outstanding service over the past five years with the squad.

In her time with the squad, Komar has obtained her EMT-B and NREMP-T certifications. She has used her wealth of knowledge to help not only those in her department, but also countless others in surrounding departments across Culpeper.

“Alex is an integral part of this department,” the company’s statement said. “She is always willing to teach new and existing providers, sharing her knowledge to help them grow and learn as providers themselves.”

Richardsville Fire & RescueEmergency medical technician Mikayla Hunt and member-driver Garth Corbin were recognized for their heroic efforts after a head-on two-vehicle accident on the night of April 18.

Heading north on U.S. 29 at about 10 p.m., Hunt and Corbin noticed a smoke cloud on the southbound side of the highway. There was no sign of police, fire or EMS personnel and the smoke cloud was barely above the tree line, so they assessed the incident had just occurred.

As they approached, Hunt and Corbin saw two SUVs, one engulfed in flames. The driver was still inside, but a good Samaritan pried open the rear passenger door on the driver’s side, allowing Corbin to jump in and try to extract the driver. Sadly, he found the driver had no pulse.

As the other SUV began to catch on fire, Hunt entered it to help another good Samaritan with extracting a teenage girl. Hunt and the Samaritan were able to extract the girl and ensure she was moved a safe distance away from the vehicle.

Corbin then tried to enter the second SUV to extract its driver, who was unconscious. But the driver’s-side door would not open. A police officer who had just arrived broke the driver’s-door window with his baton, but sadly they driver was deceased.

Corbin wasn’t finished, though. He attached a chain from his truck to one of the vehicles, pulling it apart from the other one. As he did so, Hunt was caring for the teenage girl she’d helped extract previously.

“Both Garth and Mikayla are well deserving of this Valor Award, as they went above and beyond what could have been asked of them,” the Richardsville Volunteer Fire Department & Rescue Squad’s statement said. “The situation was harrowing and very traumatic, and these two unselfishly acted to preserve life, as well as property.”

Culpeper Sheriff’s OfficeFour members of the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office were honored for responding to a horrific accident similar to the one that Richardsville’s heroes encountered.

First Lt. Shawn Walters was first to arrive. He had been patrolling the Elkwood area of the county. He saw a pair of vehicles pushed together, one on fire, in the southbound lane of U.S. 29.

Multiple good Samaritans helped Walters with extracting the passengers from the non-burning vehicle. But its driver was trapped.

As Walters entered the vehicle and tried to free the driver, the fire in the second vehicle raged on. Sheriff’s Deputy L.J. Outland arrived and tried to stall the flames using multiple fire extinguishers before finally using his patrol car’s push bumper to separate the vehicles. This allowed the driver to be safely removed.

While Walters and Outland were double-teaming the vehicles, Deputies Dustin Tharp and Mike Mawdsley arrived and began providing caring for several people who had life-threatening injuries.

“These deputies risked their own lives in order to save the lives of the people involved and for that they are being nominated for the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce Valor Award,” the department’s statement said.

Brandy Station VFDNine members of the Brandy Station Volunteer Fire Department were recognized for their response to the same two-vehicle accident that the Richardsville duo happened upon.

Brandy Station members Rick Lane, Darrell Myers, Willie Glascock, Caitlin Troilo-Waddell, Patrick Glascock, Michael Miller, Phebe Martin, Rod Frazier and Stacy Carpenter made up the response team.

While two lives were lost, four people were saved.

In addition to the Richardsville and Brandy Station departments, the Culpeper County Office of Emergency Services, Culpeper County Volunteer Fire Department, Remington Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Fauquier EMS, AirCare, Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police and Virginia Department of Transportation worked together to respond to the accident.

Culpeper E-911 DispatchKatie Harris, an emergency communications officer with Culpeper E-911 Dispatch, was honored for outstanding service during her six years with the department.

“Katie has made a lasting impression with many of the callers she has assisted as well as the first responders that she works with,” the department said.

One such impression came after Harris answered a 911 call on March 19. The woman on the other end of the phone line had just arrived home to find her house billowing with smoke. She told Harris that she could not find her dog and was afraid that it was stuck somewhere inside. Harris simultaneously guided the caller out of the house to safety and comforted her about the missing dog.

Culpeper police Officer Jason Smith, who was first to arrive, then found the dog unharmed.

Culpeper police Lt. Brittany Jenkins and Officer Al Cooper were recognized after safely extracting a distraught man from a Verizon cellphone tower in the 600 block of Old Brandy Road on the afternoon of May 2.

Upon arriving on the scene and setting up a safety perimeter, Jenkins and Cooper knew time was of the essence. Multiple calls to E-911 said the man had been making suicidal statements since he first scaled the tower, so they were concerned he was going to jump.

Without safety gear or harnesses, the officers began to climb the tower. Upon seeing this, the male ascended all the way to the top platform, some 250 feet off the ground.

Jenkins and Cooper reached the second platform, where they tried to communicate with the subject, who was armed with a knife and an aluminum pipe. That strategy proved ineffective, so despite the fact that the male was armed and falling was an ever-present threat, they decided to climb to the tower’s top platform.

Once the officers reached the top, they renewed their efforts to communicate with the man and eventually persuaded him to drop both weapons and give himself up to protective custody.

“These two officers without safety equipment climbed to 250 feet with disregard to their own personal safety to save a person’s life that was armed with two weapons,” Culpeper Town Police Chief Chris Jenkins said in a statement. “This is undoubtedly valor.”

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