Valor Awards honor local heroes


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

of life.”

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]