Governor Mike Parson awarded Missouri Public Safety Medals to a total of 15 first responders and 7 civilians for heroic and life-saving actions during 2020. The awards are Missouri’s highest recognition for first responders acting during critical incidents. The civilians, who include a 12-year-old boy who performed a life-saving rescue at age 11, were honored for taking on harrowing risks during emergencies to save lives and support first responders.
“This ceremony is an annual reminder of our heroic first responders who bravely serve the citizens of Missouri at great risk to themselves each day,” Governor Parson said. “We are inspired by the actions of these 22 outstanding Missourians. They acted selflessly, putting the safety of others and protecting the public good above concern for their own wellbeing. We appreciate and honor these first responders and civilians for their courageous actions that ended threats and saved lives during extremely challenging emergencies.”
Family members and colleagues were in attendance for the awards presentation during the Jefferson City ceremony. 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.
Jason M. Weggemann and Ronald R. Burgess, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office – On March 21, 2020, Sergeant Weggemann was conducting traffic enforcement on I-44 in the Villa Ridge area. At about 9:30 p.m., he attempted to stop a vehicle driving in excess of 90 miles an hour. The driver ignored Sergeant Weggemann’s lights and sirens and refused to pull over. Deputy Sheriff Ronald Burgess quickly joined the pursuit. Ahead of the pursuit, another deputy sheriff deployed spike strips, which disabled the fleeing vehicle. The fleeing motorist then abruptly pulled into a gas station that was open for business. Deputies moved to block the vehicle from attempting to exit. Immediately upon stopping, the driver exited his vehicle and fired a handgun multiple times at Deputy Burgess, whose patrol car had yet to come to a complete stop. As Deputy Burgess took cover behind his dashboard, the gunman began firing at Sergeant Weggemann. With deputies under fire and customers and gas station employees endangered, Weggemann and Burgess were forced to return fire. Each was seriously wounded after being shot by the gunman but, despite their wounds, they were able to shoot the gunman and end the tremendous threat to everyone at the scene.
Michael J. Ottolini and Lee Alex Clawson, Jefferson City Police Department – On the night of April 15, 2020, Jefferson City Police Department officers conducted an investigation into ongoing drive-by shootings into homes on the city’s west side. A suspect vehicle was identified and an officer attempted to make a traffic stop, but the driver refused to stop and a pursuit began. After a nine-minute pursuit through several neighborhoods, the driver and a passenger fled the vehicle. While another officer pursued the driver, Sergeant Ottollini, who had joined the pursuit, and Officer Clawson, who had arrived on-scene to assist, pursued the passenger into a wooded area. It was dark and the area contained thick brush and downed trees. Early in the foot chase, Sergeant Ottolini saw the suspect reach into his waistband for what he believed was a weapon. Officer Clawson jumped over a chain-link fence and tackled the suspect to the ground. While struggling with the suspect, Officer Clawson was shot twice in the abdomen. Officer Clawson tried to push away the gun, which he saw in the man’s right hand. He called out to Sergeant Ottolini, “he shot me.” As the gunman continued to fight Officer Clawson, Sergeant Ottolini, to protect Clawson from being shot again, pulled him away from the gunman and drew his service pistol. The gunman, still armed, and posing a threat to both officers, was shot by Sergeant Ottolini, ending the threat. He died at the scene. Officer Clawson was transported to a hospital. His ballistic vest had prevented one round from penetrating his body. The second round caused a laceration to his lower torso. After pursuing a gunman suspected of terrorizing a neighborhood and Officer Clawson being shot by the suspect, Clawson and Sergeant Ottolini displayed tremendous courage under duress in ending the threat to themselves and the community. (Lee Alex Clawson has been promoted to detective with Jefferson City Police.)
Heather M. Anderson, Springfield Police Department – On the morning of June 9, 2020, a man acting erratically briefly entered Springfield Police Department headquarters, returned outside, and urinated on the building. He then repeatedly drove through the building’s west parking lot. Officer Mark Priebe and Sergeant Anderson both went to the parking lot to investigate. Officer Priebe walked south and Sergeant Anderson walked north. At this point, the man, driving a white SUV, reentered the parking lot and drove in the direction of Officer Priebe at a high rate of speed. Officer Priebe motioned for the driver to stop and pull into a parking space. Instead, the driver immediately turned sharply, accelerated, and headed straight for Officer Priebe. The officer attempted to move out of the vehicle’s path but he was stuck, run over, and pinned under the vehicle, which was now blocked by a bollard on a sidewalk. With Officer Priebe pinned underneath, the engine revving, and the driver appearing to be attempting to move the vehicle, Sergeant Anderson swiftly moved toward the driver side of the SUV, repeatedly calling for the driver to stop. When he did not, she fired her duty weapon, striking the driver in the upper arm. The driver stopped, put the vehicle in park, raised his hands in the air, and surrendered to Sergeant Anderson. With Officer Priebe’s life in immediate peril, Sergeant Anderson took swift and decisive action to end the threat and save Priebe’s life. Officer Priebe, a 24-year police veteran was paralyzed, and while he spent months undergoing rehabilitation, he is confined to a wheelchair. The investigation revealed that the assailant had sent a text message the morning of the attack that he intended to “run a cop over.”
Jason A. Ashby, Missouri State Highway Patrol – On the evening of July 24, 2020, Corporal Ashby was off duty and a passenger on a boat with four others on Lake of the Ozarks. As the boat traveled south near the 18-mile marker of the main channel just after midnight, it was struck on the port side by another boat in a major crash. Corporal Ashby was knocked unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he and the boat operator immediately went to assist the three other passengers, a mother, a father, and their 13-year-old daughter. The mother had been killed in the crash. A resident on shore flashed an exterior light. Corporal Ashby shouted for the person to call 911 and request three ambulances and a helicopter. Working in the darkness, Ashby found that the teenager was not breathing and had no pulse. He moved her to the rear bench of the boat and began CPR. At one point the patient had a weak pulse but it quickly faded. The boat operator was tending to the girl’s father, who had a weak pulse and shallow breathing. Corporal Ashby directed the operator to restart the boat and head for the shore. At the shore, Corporal Ashby carried the girl off the boat and continued to perform CPR on a dock for several more minutes. Eventually, the girl began breathing again. When EMS arrived, Corporal Ashby and an unidentified man carried the girl off the dock up a steep flight of stairs. EMS took over her care, and then flew her and her father to a hospital. Corporal Ashby was later transported to a hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. The girl spent time on a ventilator and her father required surgery, but they have each made remarkable recoveries. The operator of the other vessel was charged with boating while intoxicated. Corporal Ashby’s decisive action and relentless determination in an emergency situation, despite his own injuries, saved the young girl’s life.
John K. Gresco II, St. Charles County Police Department – On August 9, 2020, St. Charles County was inundated with four inches of rain in two hours. At about 1 a.m. Officer Gresco was dispatched to a report of a vehicle stuck in floodwater on Pitman Road. Upon arrival, Officer Gresco found a different vehicle stuck in rapidly rising floodwater. The driver was climbing out of his window to get onto the vehicle’s roof. Officer Gresco had grown up in the area and knew immediate action was required because, when it floods, the creek nearby routinely rises to 7 to 10 feet with an unforgiving current. As the water rose above the level of the trunk, Officer Gresco quickly moved through the water to the vehicle, which was being carried toward the rising creek with the driver on the roof. Gresco knew if the vehicle reached the swift water of the creek, the driver’s chances of survival would be slim. Officer Gresco was clinging to a submerged guardrail to avoid being swept away. With the vehicle floating in his direction and with the driver on the roof desperately calling for assistance, Gresco risked his own life and moved toward the vehicle. When the vehicle ran into some brush, Gresco convinced the victim to jump to him. Gresco grabbed the victim and then helped him maneuver through the floodwater to safety. In the dark, in rising, swirling floodwater, and with no time to wait for rescue teams and equipment, Officer Gresco calmly and courageously risked his own life to take immediate action, saving a flooding victim about to be swept away.
Ryan W. Broeker, Devin R. Kitrel, and Andrew C. Mattaline, Chesterfield Police Department – Early on the morning of September 23, 2020, Chesterfield Police Officers Broeker, Kitrel, and Mattaline were working the midnight shift to investigate a rash of auto break-ins as part of a plainclothes, undercover assignment. At about 2:45 a.m., they responded to a call for a vehicle that had struck a tree at a high rate of speed. The vehicle was extremely damaged, with the front end crushed in. As the officers approached the vehicle, they noticed the glow of fire beneath the car. They attempted to enter the vehicle, but the heavy damage prevented entry. The driver had been killed on impact. Additional officers arrived on the scene and they were able to get the car open and see an injured passenger, who was conscious but trapped – severely entangled in the wiring of the engine compartment of the mangled vehicle. Fire quickly fully engulfed the engine and passenger compartments. With no fire crews on scene, immediate action was required to save the victim’s life. Officers Broeker, Kitrel, and Mattaline ignored the danger to themselves and amidst the fire, smoke, and heat, worked together to cut the victim out of the wiring and debris. Officer Broeker used a fire extinguisher as the fire encroached farther, then Officers Kitrel and Mattaline assisted in pulling the victim from the burning wreckage. Moments after the victim had been freed there was an explosion inside the car. The officers moved the victim farther away from the vehicle until medical help could arrive. Uniformed officers had spotted the vehicle numerous times traveling recklessly and at extreme speeds in the area. Despite the danger to themselves and overcoming smoke, heat, and fire, officers Broeker, Kitrel, and Mattaline’s brave and decisive action likely saved the victim’s life. (Officer Kitrel is now an officer with the St. Peters Police Department.)
Governor’s Medal: 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.
Mitchell D. Griffin, Dustin P. Hitchcock, and Michael W. Mertz, St. John Police Department; Chad W. Hembree, Woodson Terrace Police Department; and Darion Meeks, Kinloch Fire Department – On the night of June 22, 2020, first responders were dispatched to an Applebee’s restaurant on St. Charles Rock Road in St. John for an active shooter incident with several victims. A customer had left his table, retrieved a gun from his vehicle, and reentered the restaurant, shooting randomly. At the scene, witnesses informed St. John Police officers Griffin, Hitchcock, and Mertz that the gunman had fled and that there were three gunshot victims inside. Two victims were on one side of the restaurant; the third was on the other side. Officers Griffin and Mertz first went to the two victims who were together. One was already deceased. Officers Griffin and Mertz tended to the survivor, whose injuries were serious, but not life-threatening. There was now a loud commotion on the other side of the restaurant. There, Officer Hitchcock and Captain Darion Meeks of the Kinloch Fire Department were providing life-saving care to a gunshot victim who was in desperate need of immediate attention. It was a fellow firefighter from the Kinloch department who had been shot while off-duty and dining at the restaurant with Meeks. Officer Mertz, as on-scene supervisor, oversaw securing the chaotic crime scene, preservation of evidence, and identifying witnesses. Griffin went to the victim’s aid, assisting Captain Meeks and Officer Hitchcock. The victim had been shot in the head and was bleeding profusely as she lay on the floor between rows of tables. She also had injuries to both arms. Officer Hitchcock applied a tourniquet to the victim’s left arm and advised St. Louis County dispatch to expedite an ambulance to the scene. Hitchcock and Meeks then determined there was no time to wait for an ambulance because of the severity of the trauma – immediate transport to a hospital was required in a patrol vehicle. Woodson Terrace Police Officer Chad Hembree, Officer Griffin, and Captain Meeks then carried the victim outside to Officer Griffin’s patrol vehicle. Griffin then rushed the victim to DePaul Hospital, with Captain Meeks continuing to provide medical care to the victim. In the middle of a chaotic shooting scene, through a combination of teamwork, quick-thinking, and resourcefulness, the actions of Captain Meeks, and officers Hitchcock, Griffin, Hembree, and Mertz played a crucial role in saving the life of an innocent victim. The alleged gunman was arrested early the next day. (Officer Mertz is now an officer with the Crestwood Police Department.)
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.
Kurtis H. Brown, nominated by Missouri State Highway Patrol – On May 27, 2020, an armored truck accidentally traveled off the right side of Route J in Camden County, overcorrected, crossed the centerline and slid off the left side of the road. It then crashed into a large tree, which caused the armored truck to catch fire. The tremendous impact with the tree also jammed the doors shut. The driver and passenger, unable to open the doors and surrounded by thick bulletproof glass were trapped within the vehicle, which was filling with smoke as the fire grew. Southwest Electric Cooperative staking technician Kurtis Brown was returning to his office in Preston when he noticed a truck stopped in the middle of the road and a distressed woman. She told him two men were trapped inside the burning truck off to the side of the road. As the woman spoke with a 911 operator, Brown went to the armored truck. The passenger, who was in better shape than the driver, said “help us out, we can’t get out.” Brown rushed to his work truck and retrieved a hammer and a fire extinguisher. When he returned and told the passenger he planned to break the glass, his heart sank when he was told it was bulletproof glass and the truck was armored. The hammer had no effect on the windows. Brown used the fire extinguisher but the fire still burned out of control. Brown next tried to use his hammer to beat back the areas where the truck body was jamming the passenger door. As he worked his way down the door, the two men inside kept pushing on the door, trying to unlatch it. Finally, as the flames engulfed more of the truck and the smoke grew worse, the men inside forced the door open. One of the rescued men said of the resourceful and unrelenting Kurtis Brown, “He saved two lives that day.”
Lendon J. Blanchard, Evan G. Clements, and Christopher A. Runion, nominated by Lamar Police Department – On the evening of August 1, 2020, a shooting occurred in a Carthage hotel. A gunman had killed one victim and shot another before stealing a car at knifepoint and fleeing the area. There was an extensive search. Just before 8 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2, Lamar Police Officer John Simpson responded to a call for a suspicious person in the First Christian Church of Lamar. A man meeting the description of the killer was inside the church. Officer Simpson attempted to detain the man, giving the command to place his hands behind his back and turn around. Instead, the suspected murderer responded, “I’m not going back, I can’t go back.” He then reached inside the waistband of his pants and pulled out a knife. Officer Simpson tried to restrain the man, and they crashed into a bookshelf and then to the floor where they continued to struggle. Simpson sustained a cut to his hand. Church members Lendon Blanchard, Evan Clements, and Christopher Runion all immediately went to the officer’s aid. All three assisted the officer as he struggled with the suspected killer, grabbing the assailant’s arms to prevent further injury to the officer. Despite the risks to themselves, Blanchard, Clements, and Runion bravely and selflessly came to the aid of Officer Simpson and prevented further injury to the officer. With their assistance, Officer Simpson was able to take the murder suspect into custody.
Jayden Groves, nominated by St. Louis Fire Department – on August 8, 2020, a 22-month-old boy wandered away from a large family gathering in the Hyde Park area of St. Louis. His family began searching for him frantically. The toddler’s 11-year-old brother, Jayden Groves, knowing that his little brother liked to play in water, immediately headed toward a nearby pond. When he discovered his brother floating face down, he jumped into the pond and pulled out his brother. As a relative began providing CPR, Jayden raced to the nearby St. Louis Fire Department Engine House No. 8, which he had visited many times in the past. He pounded on the front door. Firefighter Dave Rodriguez ran with Jayden to the scene. The little boy was still unconscious and unresponsive. The firefighter began rescue breaths until Engine 8 arrived and assisted with ventilation. The child showed signs of improvement during transport to a hospital, which was assisted with an escort from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The boy has made a full recovery, all because of the calm, mature, and decisive actions taken by 11-year-old Jayden in a stressful emergency situation.
Miles A. Spandle, nominated by Lee’s Summit Police Department – On August 9, 2020, Lee’s Summit Police and other emergency responders were dispatched to a vehicle on fire on eastbound Highway 50 in Lee’s Summit. When Lee’s Summit Police Sergeant Mike Murray arrived on the scene, he found Miles Spandle, in medical scrubs, already on the scene treating a victim who was in serious condition. Spandle, a St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room trauma nurse, had been driving westbound on the divided highway. When he saw the burning vehicle, he immediately parked his car, grabbed his emergency trauma kit, and crossed the grass median to the eastbound lanes. The injured driver was in the driver’s seat, confused and unable to walk. The fire was spreading around him. Spandle pulled the driver out of the vehicle and then 50 feet away from the fire. He bandaged the victim’s head and was stabilizing his neck when Sergeant Murray arrived. Spandle, Sergeant Murray, and Officer David Arnold next picked up the driver and carried him farther away from the fire, and placed him behind a police vehicle for additional protection from the intensifying fire. Spandle continued to provide care to the victim until EMS arrived. Sergeant Murray believes had Miles Spandle not stopped and pulled the driver from his burning vehicle and provided emergency care, the victim would have sustained more severe injuries or even died.
Brody J. von Brethorst, nominated by Cedar County Sheriff’s Office – On September 5, 2020, a 17-year-old boy jumped from a 40-foot bluff into Stockton Lake, landed face first and was knocked unconscious, and disappeared into the water. First responders were alerted but with the victim sinking in about 12 feet of water, time was of the essence. Brody von Brethorst, a student at Missouri Valley College, saw what had happened and immediately set out to attempt a rescue. Von Brethorst raced to the location where he thought the man hit the water. Von Brethorst dove to the bottom of the lake, attempting to find the victim but was hampered by low visibility. He surfaced and called for a pair of goggles from the gathering crowd. After someone threw him a pair of goggles, von Brethorst dove in a second time. This time he found the victim and pulled him to the surface. With help from others, von Brethorst got the lifeless victim into a boat that had joined the search. The victim had no pulse, but after about five minutes of performing CPR on the boat, several nurses, who were enjoying Labor Day weekend at the lake, managed to revive the victim. Things remained very much touch and go. The victim was intubated on a helicopter flight to a hospital and put on a ventilator once he arrived at the hospital. Five days later, the victim was released from the hospital. In a highly stressful emergency situation, Brody von Brethorst had the ideal combination of inner calm, stamina, quick-thinking, and determination to save the young victim’s life.
Nominations are now open for heroic acts performed during 2021 and must be received by February 28, 2022. The nominating form is available on the Missouri Department of Public Safety website on the Department of Public Safety website.