Awards honor local heroes
Bennie Scarton Jr.
For placing his own life in jeopardy to save the life of a pilot who
was trapped in the wreckage of his airplane, Manassas Police Officer 1st
Class James J. Morris was one of 33 public safety heroes honored on Thursday.
Morris, along with a group of Prince William County Department of Fire
and Rescue personnel and a Prince William police officer, were presented
Bronze Medals at the 15th annual Valor Awards Ceremony sponsored by the
Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In all, 33 public safety professionals who had gone beyond the call
of duty to protect the lives and property of county residents were cited
at the awards luncheon at the Clubs of Quantico on the Marine Corps Base.
Morris was honored for his bravery that took place last Oct. 21 during
the Presidents Cup in Gainesville.
He had been assigned to the Tower at Manassas Regional Airport with
a Secret Service Agent because of the arrival of President Clinton, who
was coming to the golf tournament as its honorary chairman.
The airport was closed to all traffic 15 minutes before the arrival
of Air Force One. However, one of the many private aircraft in the area
that day was a home-built plane en route to Manassas from Winchester. The
plane had been diverted to the Nokesville area to circle until the airport
While Clinton’s place was on final approach, the private aircraft developed
engine problems, declared an emergency and turned to the airport.
Morris saw the troubled airplane go into an uncontrolled flight and
disappear southwest of the airport.
“I got an empty feeling in my stomach and knew that something had
to be done,” Morris said in an interview after receiving his bronze plaque.
The lone occupant of the airplane was obviously injured and hanging
upside down, halfway out the craft and pinned under the lip of the canopy
and fuselage. While here was no smoke or fire, fuel was spilling from the
airplane’s right wing tank.
Morris used a folding knife to cut through the side of the aircraft
to reach the pilot. When he saw that the pilot’s foot was jammed in the
rudder pedal, he entered the opening in the plane he had cut to reach the
pedal and free the pilot’s foot.
In describing Morris’ heroics to the gathering, narrator Michael Gargiulo
with Fox News said “Officer Morris’ action was skillful and selfless.
He placed himself in a potentially life-threatening situation as he worked
to free the pilot. Because of his efforts, the pilot’s life was saved.”
He was presented the bronze plaque by Manassas Police Chief John Skinner,
who said “he was proud of Morris’ accomplishment.” Morris said
he was “honored to be a recipient of the award.”
A bronze medal was also presented to Capt. Jim Tanner, Technician II
Brian Plaster, Technician I Adam Sampiller, Technician Scott Richardson,
Lt. Ed Rahl, Technician II Barry Culberson, Technician I Andy Pagano and
Technician I Michelle Porter with the County Department of Fire and Rescue
for their efforts in battling a house blaze of a suspected bomb-maker who
was killed in an initial blast that started the fire.
A third bronze medal went to Officer Welsey S. Lowe of the Prince William
County Police Department for his outstanding job of apprehending a potentially
dangerous armed robbery suspect.
The chamber presents awards in five divisions. The Gold Medal and Silver
Medal are the two top awards but no one qualified to receive any of those
awards this year.
Certificates of Valor were presented to paramedic Steven King and firefighters
Greg Richards, Eric Craven and Frank Winston of the City of Manassas Park
Department of Fire and Rescue for their efforts in helping five injured
workers in a partial roof collapse of a building; Officer Bert A. Eyler,
Senior Police Officer Paul D. Rankin Jr., Master Police Officer Wayne D.
Stewart and Sgt. John J. Twomey III with the County Police Department for
their efforts in arresting an armed suspect; Lance Corp. David L., Johnson
with the United States Marine Corps for his effort in rescuing a child submerged
in a creek; Technicians David Walick, Scott Richardson, Adam Sampiller,
Garth Clarke, Keri Ackerman and Kyle Ghear with the County Department of
Fire and Rescue for their efforts in saving a woman and extinguishing a
house fire; and Trooper James L. Kirkpatrick of the Virginia State Police
for rescuing an abducted woman.
Lifesaving awards went to Linda Norman with the Office of Public Safety
Communications, also for her action in the abduction case; Officer Larry
J. Berry of the Manassas Park Police Department for saving the life of a
youth attempting suicide; Mark J. Harman with the County Police Department,
who saved the life of a young girl found in a vehicle with the engine running
in a garage; Lt. Doug McCabe and Technicians Tim Lake and Jim Young with
the Dept. of Fire and Rescue for saving the life of a woman who was choking;and
Sgt. James J. Vondras with the Marine Corps for saving the life of a one-year-old
child who was not breathing.
Tim Jackson, chairman of the board for the chamber, said he was “grateful
to the men and women who dedicate themselves to the safety of our region.
We salute the heroes to whom we owe our lives, our property and our quality
Prince William Board of County Supervisor Sean Connaughton congratulated
the chamber “for this great, great event that honors those who go beyond
the call of duty.”
Bill Johnston, formerly with Dominion Virginia Power, gave a history
of how the award ceremony originated 15 years ago, saying “it is now
the single most important event put on by the chamber.”
· Contact Bennie Scarton Jr. at [email protected]