PSP Announce Award Recipients

Editor’s Note: The following is a combination of several news releases from the Pennsylvania State Police

Pennsylvania State Police Present Highest Award to Trooper

Recipient Saved Life of Companion When Boat Capsized in Lake Erie

Hershey – State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan today presented the State Police Medal of Honor – the department’s highest award – to a trooper who saved the life of a friend after their fishing boat capsized on Lake Erie in August 2010.

Tpr. Harry S. Gustafson Jr., 43, of New Castle, Lawrence County, received the honor during the department’s annual awards ceremony at the State Police Academy in Hershey.

“Tpr. Gustafson’s brave and selfless actions during a grueling four-hour ordeal reflect the high standards we’ve come to expect of the members of the Pennsylvania State Police since the department’s founding in 1905,” Noonan said.  “The fact that these actions were taken while the trooper was off duty is a further testament to his outstanding commitment to protect the residents of the commonwealth.”

Gustafson and his friend, Dwayne Dye, 61, of North East, Erie County, an experienced charter boat captain, were on a 17-foot fishing boat on Lake Erie on Aug. 8, 2010, when the boat’s motor overheated and a series of waves capsized the vessel.

“Through a series of heroic actions, Tpr. Gustafson managed to rescue Mr. Dye from under the overturned boat, climb onto the hull, and then hold his friend above the waves by means of a nylon rope tied around both men,” Noonan said.  “Mr. Dye was unable to climb onto the hull.”

Dye’s health deteriorated as hours passed and Gustafson struggled to hold Dye above the waves that crashed over the capsized boat.

“At one point, Tpr. Gustafson told his semi-conscious and weakening friend, ‘I got you.  I’ll hold you all day,’” Noonan said.

Nearly four hours after the boat capsized, another fishing vessel came into view and approached the overturned boat.  Gustafson grabbed Dye around the neck and swam toward the other vessel.  As they approached that boat, the nearly unconscious Dye sank under the water.  Gustafson dove and brought Dye back to the surface, where the trooper and two men from the other vessel lifted him out of the water.

Dye was transported to the Hamot Medical Center in Erie, where he was diagnosed as suffering from a minor heart attack, fluid in his lungs, and hypothermia.

“Tpr. Gustafson said that often during the ordeal, he thought about his family, including his then-pregnant daughter,” Noonan said.  “Less than 24 hours after he and Dye were brought to shore, Gustafson’s daughter gave birth to his first grandchild.”

Gustafson enlisted in the state police in November 1991.  He is assigned to the Criminal Investigation Unit at Troop D, New Castle.

State police have presented 57 Medals of Honor since the award was created in 1970.


State Police Presents Highest Award to Two Schuylkill County Troopers

Pair Went into Raging Flood Waters to Pull Man from Submerged Vehicle

Hershey – State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan today presented the State Police Medal of Honor to two troopers who entered raging flood waters in Schuylkill County in March to pull an elderly man from his submerged vehicle.

Noonan made the presentation to Tprs. Jeffrey A. Hummel, 36, and Kurt S. Salak, 43, during the department’s annual awards ceremony at the State Police Academy in Hershey.  Both troopers are assigned to the Patrol Unit at Troop L, Schuylkill Haven.

“The gallant efforts of these two men went far above and beyond the call of duty,” Noonan said.  “They placed their own lives in jeopardy in an attempt to save the life of another.  Each is deserving of the State Police Medal of Honor, which is the department’s highest award.”

Noonan said that during the evening of March 10, Hummel and Salak donned life jackets and entered rising flood waters in an attempt to reach a 74-year-old man who had driven around barricades and into water along Rt. 645 near Rt. 443 in Pine Grove Township.  The troopers were tethered to emergency services personnel on the scene.

The troopers managed to smash windows to enter the submerged vehicle and extricate the victim.  The troopers and victim were pulled from the water by the emergency service personnel.  Unfortunately, the elderly man was pronounced dead at the scene.

Salak and Hummel were transported to a hospital for treatment of hypothermia.  Salak suffered a serious cut to his right forearm and Hummel suffered minor cuts.

Hummel is a six-year veteran of the state police, while Salak has been with the department for four years.


Four Troopers Honored for Actions at Scene of Fatal Trooper Shooting

Recipients Assisted Fallen Tpr. Paul G. Richey During Venango County Incident

Hershey – The Pennsylvania State Police today honored four troopers for their heroic actions at the scene of the fatal shooting of Tpr. Paul G. Richey in January 2010 in Venango County, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan announced.

Noonan presented the State Police Medal of Honor to Tpr. Jason E. Whitman and State Police Commendation Medals to Cpl. Robert T. Finch and Tprs. William T. Heasley and Paul E. Swatzler during a ceremony at the State Police Academy in Hershey.  The recipients were assigned to Troop E, Franklin, at the time of the shooting.  Finch now is assigned to Troop E, Erie.

“These troopers displayed valor and selflessness while risking their lives to remove a fallen comrade from an extremely dangerous situation,” Noonan said.  “Their actions were a credit to themselves and to the Pennsylvania State Police.”

The incident began on Jan. 13, 2010, around 11:40 a.m., when the Franklin station received a 911 call regarding a domestic disturbance at a home in Cranberry Township, Venango County.

Richey and Whitman responded to the scene.  As they walked toward the house, a rifle shot fired from a second-floor window struck Richey in the neck.

“Tpr. Whitman returned fire, moved back to the patrol car, called for assistance, and then provided first aid to Tpr. Richey,” Noonan said.  “Tprs. Finch, Heasley and Swatzler were the first to respond to the scene.  Fearing that Tpr. Richey was bleeding to death, the troopers provided cover fire and managed to move Tpr. Richey from an exposed position into Finch’s marked Ford Expedition patrol vehicle.”

Richey was driven to an ambulance waiting nearby and then was transported to a Seneca hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:10 p.m.

Investigation determined that the fatal shot was fired from inside the house by Michael J. Smith, 44.  Both Smith and his wife were found dead in the house when officers entered.  Smith had shot and killed his wife and later committed suicide, the county coroner ruled.

Noonan said Whitman, 35, was given the State Police Medal of Honor – the department’s highest award – in recognition of “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty and at the imminent risk of life.”

A nine-year veteran of the department, Whitman serves on a state police Special Emergency Response Team.

“Tpr. Whitman’s advanced training as a SERT member played an important role in helping him deploy tactics that protected him and the responding troopers as they removed Tpr. Richey from the scene,” Noonan said.

Finch, 40, is an 18-year veteran of the department who was promoted to corporal in June 2010.  Heasley, 42, and Swatzler, 43, also are 18-year state police veterans.

The State Police Commendation Medal is presented to personnel for “a conspicuously significant achievement that enhances the prestige of the department,” Noonan said.


Bethlehem-based Investigator Named Trooper of the Year

State Police Honor Tpr. Raymond Judge for Efforts in Several Cases

Hershey – State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan today presented the State Police Trooper of the Year Award to a 15-year veteran who played a key role in bringing numerous criminals to justice in 2010.

Tpr. Raymond M. Judge, 42, of the Criminal Investigation Assessment Unit at Troop M, Bethlehem, received the honor during the department’s annual awards ceremony at the State Police Academy in Hershey.

“Tpr. Judge’s keen investigative abilities, his dedication, and his strong work ethic reflect well on the reputation of the Pennsylvania State Police,” Noonan said.  “We are extremely proud to have him as a member of our team.”

Noonan said Judge’s efforts were particularly outstanding in four separate cases in 2010:

  • Judge obtained a confession from an individual who raped and murdered his girlfriend on June 4 after she attempted to end their relationship.  Judge was able to get information that enabled the Emmaus Police Department to locate the woman’s body and recover perishable evidence.
  • Judge served as the primary investigator for the June 26 murders of four persons in Northampton by a man on parole for a 1991 slaying.  Judge reconstructed the suspect’s movements prior to the murders and determined where the suspect obtained the murder weapon.  Judge ensured that the families of the victims were kept fully informed of the progress of the case.
  • Judge served on a major case team formed in the wake of a double homicide on Sept. 22 in Lehigh Township, Northampton County.  Following an intensive manhunt, Judge and others tracked down the suspect and took him into custody.
  • Investigative efforts by Judge helped lead to the Oct. 5 arrest of a suspect in an unsolved 1985 murder in Northampton County.  Judge uncovered new evidence in the case and located and interviewed previously unknown witnesses.  The homicide arrest was based on a presentment from a Northampton County grand jury.

Judge, who lives in Bethlehem, enlisted in the state police in September 1995.


State Police Trooper Honored for Actions at Berks County Shootout

Officer’s Decisive Efforts Credited with Protecting Others at Scene

Harrisburg – The Pennsylvania State Police today honored a 12-year-veteran of the department for his actions in January at the scene of a shooting incident in Berks County that left two people dead, Commissioner Frank Noonan announced.

During an awards ceremony at the State Police Academy in Hershey, Noonan presented a State Police Commendation Medal to Tpr. Shawn R. Reifsnyder, 36, who is assigned to the Patrol Unit at Troop L, Hamburg.

“Tpr. Reifsnyder acted without hesitation or regard for his own safety, moving quickly and decisively to protect the lives of others,” Noonan said.

Reifsnyder and another trooper were dispatched Jan. 8 around 9 p.m. to a home in Hamburg after state police received a call to assist the Hamburg Police Department with a domestic disturbance involving a firearm.

“While the troopers were responding, they learned that a Hamburg police officer had come under fire,” Noonan said.

As the police cruiser driven by Reifsnyder arrived at the scene, the troopers came under fire from a 40-year-old man with a military rifle standing outside the house.  Reifsnyder immediately got out of the patrol car and returned fire with a shotgun.

“His actions enabled the Hamburg officer and the shooter’s wife to get to safe positions,” Noonan said.

As police and the shooter exchanged fire, the shooter’s mother-in-law ran out of the house.  She was shot and killed by her son-in-law.  The shooter then retreated into the house, where he was killed by a shot fired by his father-in-law.

Noonan said an investigation determined that when the Hamburg officer arrived at the home in response to a police call, he immediately was fired upon by the shooter.  The shooter’s wife then ran from the home and she and the officer attempted to take cover while the officer called for backup.  The shooter fired at least a dozen rounds during the incident, according to the investigation.

Reifsnyder, who lives in Schuylkill Haven, enlisted in the state police in May 1999.


State Police Honor Sergeant Who Stopped Car Going Wrong Way on I-380

Vehicle Was Driven by Elderly Man Suffering from Medical Emergency

Harrisburg – A Pennsylvania State Police sergeant today was honored by the department for stopping a vehicle being driven the wrong way on a Monroe County interstate highway by an elderly man suffering from a medical emergency, Commissioner Frank Noonan announced.

Noonan presented a State Police Commendation Medal to retired Sgt. Robert J. Castner, 47, who was the station commander at Troop N, Fern Ridge, when the incident occurred on July 6, 2010.  Castner retired in January of this year.

“Sgt. Castner’s brave actions that day not only saved the life of the driver, but also protected other motorists on the highway,” Noonan said.

The incident began around 5:10 p.m. when Castner, driving an unmarked state police patrol vehicle, entered I-380 in Tobyhanna Township and saw a Pontiac Grand Am traveling south in the northbound passing lane.

Castner began a pursuit of the Grand Am and activated his car’s lights and siren to warn oncoming traffic on the busy highway.

“Ignoring his own safety and recognizing the danger to the public posed by the situation, Sgt. Castner pulled up alongside the Grand Am and used his police vehicle to force the Grand Am to a stop on the berm,” Noonan said.

When Castner approached the Grand Am on foot, the driver attempted to pull away.  However, he was unable to get past a pickup truck that had pulled onto the berm in front of the Grand Am.

“Sgt. Castner ran up to the Grand Am and got the keys away from the driver, who appeared disoriented and suffering from a medical emergency,” Noonan said.  “The sergeant summoned an ambulance, which took the operator to the Pocono Medical Center.”

Authorities determined that the operator, a 71-year-old Luzerne County man, had suffered a type of stroke.  The man was transferred to Geisinger Medical Center and later to a nursing home.

The State Police Commendation Medal is presented to personnel for “a conspicuously significant achievement that enhances the prestige of the department,” Noonan said.

Castner enlisted in the state police in June 1985.  He lives in Scott Township, Lackawanna County.

State Police Honors Lehigh County Woman as Employee of the Year

31-year Department Veteran is Troop Administrative Manager at Hazleton

Hershey – State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan today presented the State Police Civilian Employee of the Year Award for 2010 to a Leigh County woman who serves as the troop administrative manager for Troop N, Hazleton.

Tina J. Koren, 50, of Whitehall Township, received the honor during the department’s annual awards ceremony at the State Police Academy in Hershey.

“Tina Koren has been a model employee during her 31 years with the department,” Noonan said.  “She started in an entry level position at Troop M, Bethlehem, and through hard work, advanced to her present post as the key civilian manager at Troop N.”

Since joining Troop N in May 2004, Noonan said, Koren has developed several computer databases, reduced the amount of paperwork generated by the troop, and created a travel tracking program.

“She consistently reviews all troop expenses, invoices and contracts and has developed cost savings initiatives that have cut routine expenditures by at least 25 percent,” Noonan said.

Koren serves as the troop’s website administrator, Right to Know Law liaison, and administrative officer for all Workers Compensation claims.

Noonan said Koren is active in her community, serving as a school director for the Whitehall-Coplay School District and a member of the Whitehall Township/Whitehall School District Joint Operating Committee. She also has coached two girls’ basketball teams.


State Police Honor Police Communications Officer for Dedication

Pittsburgh-based PCO Recognized for Service to Department, Community

Hershey – State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan today presented the department’s Police Communications Operator of the Year award for 2010 to a Pittsburgh-based employee.

PCO Cynthia L. Gonze, 51, of McDonald, received the award during a ceremony at the State Police Academy in Hershey.  Gonze has been a PCO at Troop B, Pittsburgh, for the past 20 years.

“PCO Gonze is a dedicated employee who does a difficult job in a professional, compassionate and efficient manner,” Noonan said.  “She handles an exceptionally large volume of telephone calls, radio traffic and computer messages, while always keeping the safety of the public as her top priority.”

Noonan said Gonze staffs  the state police command post at virtually every major event in the Pittsburgh area, including the U.S. Open at Oakmont and the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh.

Noonan said a clear example of Gonze’s dedication came following a storm that dropped two feet of snow on the Pittsburgh area last winter.  “PCO Gonze shoveled that snow from her driveway herself and reported to work to serve the people of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Gonze serves as a volunteer with the annual Camp Cadet program for young people and has provided countless hours of volunteer service to the local cancer and heart associations, Noonan said.


State Police Honors Pittsburgh-based Motor Carrier Enforcement Officer

31-year Veteran Cited for Strong Work Ethic, Commitment to Community

Hershey – A Pittsburgh-based state police motor carrier enforcement officer known for his strong work ethic, professionalism and dedication to the community was honored today as the State Police Enforcement Officer of the Year for 2010.

During a ceremony at the State Police Academy in Hershey, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan presented the award to Motor Carrier Enforcement Officer Thomas G. Smith, 55, who is assigned to the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit at Troop B, Pittsburgh.

“Officer Smith plays a crucial role in our efforts to protect travelers on our highways by ensuring that commercial vehicles meet all safety regulations,” Noonan said.  “His professionalism, strong work ethic, dedication to duty and unparalleled job knowledge bring honor to him and to our department.”

Noonan said Smith has worked side-by-side with Officer R. Thomas Jacques of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to develop and conduct S.O.A.R. (Safe Operations is Your Responsibility), an annual program to educate commercial carriers and drivers about the safe operation of their vehicles.

“He frequently is called upon to provide training or answer queries regarding commercial vehicle regulations,” Noonan said.  “He has developed close working relationships with agencies throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.”

A resident of McDonald, Smith began his career in 1980 as a weight enforcement officer with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.  He transferred to state police in 2005 when state police assumed responsibility for commercial vehicle enforcement from PennDOT.

Noonan said Smith is “dedicated to making his community a better place,” noting that he serves as an elder and trustee at Venice Presbyterian Church, Cecil; president of the Canon-McMillan Community Scholarship Board; and a volunteer for the American Cancer Society and the Beaver County Cancer and Heart Association.

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