Valor Awards recognize brave actions by law enforcement
Published 9:15 am Saturday, September 2, 2023
In a room filled with countless brave men and women, the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce recognized the cream of the crop for their heroic and selfless actions over the past year.
On Thursday night, the chamber held its 2023 Valor Awards banquet at Great Wolf Lodge honoring this year’s slate of first responders for their brave actions that help keep our community safe.
A total of 79 first responders were nominated for awards including Medal of Merit, Public Safety Person and Unit of the Year, Life Saving Award, and Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals of Valor.
MEDAL OF MERIT
The Medal of Merit Award was given to Sgt. William O’Steen of the West Point Police Department.
The Medal of Merit Award is given to the most outstanding public safety professionals in the community for their efforts and their time both on and off the job.
O’Steen was presented the award for his efforts in investigating and helping close a case involving elder abuse in West Point.
PUBLIC SAFETY PERSON OF THE YEAR
Lt. Caleb Harrison of the LaGrange Fire Department was named Public Safety Person of the Year.
LaGrange Fire Chief Willie Bradfield said Harrison has extensive teaching experience and has made significant contributions to the fire service by sharing his knowledge with others.
Bradfield said Harrison currently serves as the acting shift commander for the LFD first battalion, where he demonstrates composure during challenging situations.
“Lt. Harrison’s dedication, mentorship and leadership qualities have earned him the respect of his colleagues making him an exceptional candidate and this year’s winner for Public Safety Person of the Year,” Bradfield said.
PUBLIC SAFETY UNIT OF THE YEAR
This year’s Public Safety Unit of the Year is not just a unit from one department, but a team from several departments working together in an emergency.
Sgt. Richard Milliron and Officer Conrad Guilliot with the Hogansville Police Department (HPD), Lt. Chase Freeman with the Troup County Fire Department (TCFD), and Paramedic Kaitlyn Gates and Paramedic Amy Sheppard were named Public Safety Unit of the Year.
The quintet was recognized for their heroic efforts on Aug. 24, 2022, when a critical call for service was received about a person not breathing.
Hogansville Police Chief Jeff Sheppard said Guillot arrived first on the scene and began lifesaving interventions. Freeman and Milliron arrived shortly afterward and assisted in performing CPR and utilizing a defibrillator.
Paramedics Sheppard, Gates and Freeman then continued lifesaving efforts while bringing the victim to the intensive care unit at the WellStar West Georgia Medical Center. The victim survived and was discharged a week later.
“The collective efforts of these officers, firefighters and paramedics, who collaborated across agencies played a pivotal role in saving [the victim’s] life. Their dedication to swift response, recognition of the severity of the situation, and effective first responder skills made all the difference,” Chief Sheppard said.
COMMUNICATION PERSON OF THE YEAR
Alyssa Ward of Troup County 911 was named Communications Person of the Year for her efforts in saving a man in Chambers County who was having a heart attack.
Troup 911 Director Shannon McLaughlin said Ward received a call from near the county line with poor service causing the call to disconnect. Ward used the new 911 texting technology to communicate with the victim in an area with little service to help him get the help he desperately needed.
“Quick thinking and innovative use of technology played a vital role in ensuring a positive outcome for the caller. Today the man is alive and well, grateful for the heroic efforts of emergency responders, including this year’s Communications Person of the Year, Alyssa Ward,” McLaughlin said.
A pair of Lifesaving Awards were given out for two separate heroic interventions.
The first award went to Lt. Mike Cosmah, Firefighter Rich Mounts and Firefighter Evan Rhoades with the LaGrange Fire Department.
Chief Bradfield said that the trio responded to a call on June 20, 2022, to find a person in severe respiratory distress gasping fire. LPD was already on the scene, performing CPR and utilizing a defibrillator when firefighters arrived. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, they took charge and transitioned into the lead role for patient care.
While being rushed to the hospital, the patient briefly lost pulse, prompting the immediate resumption of CPR and the administration of adrenaline, helping save the individual’s life.
“Thanks to the swift action and coordinated efforts, Engine Four regained the patient’s pulse before transferring care to the ER staff. Thankfully, the patient survived and was later reunited with their families,” Bradfield said.
The second Lifesaving Award was given to Kerry Wegienka of the Troup County Fire Department.
On Dec. 9, 2022, a motor vehicle accident with multiple injuries occurred on Interstate 85 near Mile Marker 39.
Although Wegienka was off duty traveling in a neighboring county firefighter, he jumped into action and began triaging the five injured victims providing critical care amid chaos, helping save a seven-year-old girl with a severe head injury.
“Wegienka’s unwavering commitment and exceptional care exemplify the spirit of compassion and dedication found in the hearts of those who protect and support others,” Troup County Fire Chief Michael Strickland said.
BRONZE MEDAL OF VALOR
The Bronze Medal of Valor is given for situations where during an emergency, a public safety official or unit demonstrates extraordinary judgment and performance of their duties.
This year’s Bronze Medal of Valor was given to Capt. Eric Lohr, Sgt. Clayton Bryant, Cpl. Michael Willoughby, Detective Darrell Prichard, Detective Stephen Spivey, Officer Riley Densmore, Officer Mohammed Salihi and Officer Matthew Turner with the LaGrange Police Department.
LaGrange Police Chief Garrett Fiveash said the officers were awarded the medal for an incident on Aug. 17, 2022, where a man armed with a knife attempted to kidnap his wife.
Officers responded to the incident and they learned that the man had forcefully taken his wife into a white Ford Expedition. Police were able to engage the man in conversation and successfully lured him out of the vehicle with the promise of a cigarette, but when he stepped out, the wife attempted to escape from the passenger side. The male quickly returned to the driver’s seat and grabbed the female by the shirt. The woman managed to break free from the vehicle, but the man hit the gas pedal striking her as she ran away. Reacting swiftly, officers discharged their service weapons to protect the female and the vehicle veered down an embankment and came to a stop near the woodline.
Despite sustaining significant injuries, officers were able to rescue the female victim. The male suspect was injured by the gunfire and taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.
Both individuals survived their injuries thanks to the prompt and decisive actions of the officers involved, Fiveash said.
“Their bravery and dedication reflect their commitment to their duty and deserve recognition for their response during the incident,” Fiveash said.
SILVER MEDAL OF VALOR
The Silver Medal of Valor is the second-highest award for bravery and heroism and is awarded in situations when a public safety officer or unit knowingly takes great personal risk and the performance of an official act.
The Silver Medal of Valor was given to Lt. Paramedic Brad Walker, Sgt. EMT Didar Suleman, Firefighter Thomas Baker and Firefighter Paramedic William Claypoole with the West Point Fire Department.
West Point Fire Chief Derick Staley said the crew was awarded the medal for their bravery in responding to a shooting at the West Point Depot.
“Despite the inherent dangers posed by the potential presence of the shooter, these courageous responders prioritize patient care but in their own safety online, navigating through a chaotic scene strewn with broken glass, debris, party supplies and blood, the EMS crews bravely located and triaged the most critical patients,” Staley said.
“Their unwavering dedication and coordinated efforts contributed to the overall management of the incident, ensuring that all victims receive the necessary medical attention while maintaining order and security,” Staley said.
GOLD MEDAL OF VALOR
The Gold Medal of Valor is the highest award given for bravery and heroism and is awarded in cases in which a public safety official or unit knowingly placed their lives in peril of death or serious bodily harm or saving or attempting to save the lives of others.
This year’s winners of the award are Sgt. Michette Moon, Firefighter Brandi Capes and Firefighter Zack Domantay with the LaGrange Fire Department.
Bradfield advised on the morning of May 9, the LaGrange Fire Department responded to a structure fire with a person possibly trapped.
Firefighters were able to confirm that a female victim was trapped inside a back bedroom. Without hesitation, the firefighters navigated to her using a thermal imaging camera and helped pull the victim from the fire within six minutes of the original call for help.
When firefighters reentered to put out the flames, the room Sgt. Moon was in became fully engulfed. She was able to escape but the fire melted the thermal camera she had just used to save the trapped victim.
“The exceptional performance of this crew and the LaGrange Fire Department as a whole demonstrate their swift action and bravery, making a significant difference between life and death in a critical situation,” Bradfield said.