Valor Awards honor local heroes By 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 reopened.

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.”

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