Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2014

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Metro Police honor officers who showed valor in life-and-death situations

Most of the incidents Metro Police deal daily rarely make it beyond daily, in-house briefings.

Those stories, however, are often more harrowing, involving life-and-death decisions, than the most intriguing murder.

Metro’s Best of the Badge awards banquet at Red Rock Resort on Friday night singled out 13 such events between November 2011 and December 2013, honoring 26 men and women.

The stories included one of an officer running alongside an out-of-control vehicle, jumping in and bringing it to a stop. Other officers ran into burning buildings to save people; many were involved in shootings; one off-duty cop convinced an armed suspect to disarm without shooting; and one officer lost his life rescuing an injured, stranded hiker.

In all, 14 Medals of Honor, nine Medals of Valor, one Lifesaving Award and two Purple Hearts were awarded.

Lt. Harry Fagel opened the event with "The Thunder," a powerful poem that fit the night’s theme of “superheroes.”

“No cape or magic suit or alien power … yet somehow, still superhero,” he said.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie said three chairs at the front of the room were left empty to commemorate three officers who died in the line of duty over the past 12 months — Lee VanBuskirk, Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck.

“We are only as successful as the strength we receive from our families at home,” he said.

These are the incidents, the officers and the awards:

Nov. 21, 2011. Medal of Honor. During a gang suppression move on Karen Avenue, Detective Casey Clarkson ran after a suspect who pulled a weapon. Clarkson shot the man, who was running and pointing his gun at Clarkson.

March 16, 2012. Medals of Valor (3)/Purple Heart. After shooting an 8-year-old girl in the face near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Owens Avenue, a suspect got into a shootout with officers, grazing Brian Jackson’s head. Officers Jacob Legrow, Larry Miles and Brian Walter confined the suspect, who shot himself.

Nov. 2, 2012. Medals of Honor (3). A man angry at being evicted on Cambridge Street grabbed a woman and held her hostage with a knife. Officers Russell Ellsworth, Nolan Hamilton and Brandon Oris responded; Ellsworth and Oris shot and killed the man and freed the woman.

Nov. 3, 2012. Medals of Valor (2). Hearing gunfire, Officers David Denton and Theodore Snodgrass found an alleged carjacker, who shot at them. They shot back, hitting him and putting him in the hospital. The man survived and a trial is set for March 2015.

Feb. 2, 2013. Medals of Valor (2). Chasing down an alleged bank robber who was shooting his gun, Officers Clarence Bowden and James Larosa chased the suspect over walls and through yards. Larosa shot the suspect, who survived his injuries.

March 29, 2013. Medals of Honor (5). Officers responded to a man who was shot and fell off a balcony. The officers devised a plan, rescued the downed man and carried him to an ambulance 200 yards away, saving his life. Officers honored: Russell Booze, Ion Iliesco, Jeff Lang, Jason Weeks and Jerry Ybarra.

May 3, 2013. Medal of Honor. Officer Christopher Garcia saw a large SUV stuck via its front bumper to a van’s rear bumper, pushing the jackknifed van at 30 mph on Interstate 15 at Blue Diamond Road. The SUV driver was slumped over the steering wheel. Garcia told the van driver how to slow the moving wreck, ran alongside the SUV, broke a window to get inside and then stopped the SUV.

May 23, 2013. Medal of Honor. Officer Tannar Schmidt ran into a burning apartment, saving the life of a woman suspected of starting the fire.

July 12, 2013. Medal of Honor. Off-duty Capt. Csaba Maczala, at Walmart on Eastern and Serene avenues, saw a man pointing a gun at another. He drew his weapon. The man turned, holding the gun but pointing it downward. He put it on the hood of the car, several times acting like he would grab it. Maczala arrested the man without further incident.

July 22, 2013. Lifesaving Award. Officer David VanBuskirk lost his life during the rescue of a hiker stranded over a cliff on Mount Charleston. With a helicopter hovering overhead, Buskirk secured the hiker into a hoist cable. As the hoist lifted, Buskirk “spontaneously released from the hook.” He fell to his death.

Sept. 3, 2013. Medals of Honor (3). A man entered the Clark County Detention Center with an aluminum bat and serrated knife, swinging the bat immediately and hitting Corrections Officer Darren McCray. Unable to use guns because of bystanders, McCray and Corrections Officers Nicholas Eubanks and Lori Scott subdued the suspect.

Sept. 11, 2013. Medal of Valor/Purple Heart. Officers Matthew Kovacich and Frank Harris were called to a live burglary. They caught one suspect immediately. The other fled. Kovavich caught him and the two fought for control of his gun. Harris scaled a wall with barbed wire on top, launched himself into the suspect and ended the fight. Kovavich reported he saw “Superman fly through the air into the subject!”

Dec. 12, 2013. Medals of Honor (4). Responding to a fire near Vegas Drive and Jones Boulevard, Officers Traves Humphreys, Benjamin Macdonnell and Michael Tolbert, along with Sgt. James Bonkavich, rescued three elderly women from a home burning after someone through a Molotov cocktail through a window. The officers pried open a door because the women could not find the key.

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