Corporal Q.M. Brown was recently inducted into the IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors Club. Cpl. Brown was presented the Valor Award in 2009 for his bravery when he was shot during a line of duty incident in Orangeburg in 2008. Today’s award is presented on behalf of the law enforcement community, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the DuPont Company. The award is presented to Cpl. Brown for having survived a significant event while properly wearing his body armor. Cpl. Brown, please come forward. Introduce Director Keel to present Valor Awards.
Valor Awards: The first Valor Award is presented to Corporal David T. Knox, Troop Four, Post C (Chester/Fairfield): On August 20, 2009, a passing motorist flagged down Corporal Knox to let him know that a house was on fire on Main Street in Richburg. Corporal Knox entered the burning structure and helped remove a 71 year old woman from the home. When the Richburg Fire Dept. arrived on the scene, the chief asked Knox to continue to help him until other units arrived. Knox was able to assist the chief in securing the scene. Richburg Fire Chief John Agee said that Knox’s “actions are held at the highest levels of respect in the fire service. This department and community will always be grateful for what he did for the Grant family.” Knox is a 22-year veteran of the Highway Patrol.
Valor Award Two is presented to Trooper Michael D. Earnest, Troop Five, Post D (Horry):
Trooper First Class Earnest responded to a vehicle collision on Pitch Landing Road off US 701 in the Bucksport Community of Horry County. When Earnest made contact with the driver and asked his name, the driver initially gave him false information. The driver’s identity was later revealed. An NCIC check showed the driver was wanted for assault and battery and check fraud. When Earnest proceeded to place him under arrest, handcuffing him behind his back, the suspect fled on foot through a wooded area and jumped into a pond. Earnest found him submerged in the water and immediately jumped in the pond in full uniform, pulling the suspect to safety on the bank. The suspect was treated and later released from the emergency room. Earnest’s heroic actions likely saved this man’s life.
Valor Award Three goes to L/Cpl. R.A. Strickland of Troop Six, Post B, Colleton and Dorchester counties. L/Cpl. Strickland is a 10-year veteran of the Highway Patrol. On August 8, 2009, at approximately 12:30 a.m., Lance Corporal R.A. Strickland took actions to save a man’s life after he attempted to evade him during a traffic stop for speeding on US-15 in rural Colleton County.
The suspect’s attempt to evade L/Cpl. Strickland came to a violent halt as he lost control of his vehicle, disregarded a stop sign and struck St. Matthews Baptist Church. The suspect was still behind the wheel when his vehicle ignited into flames. L/Cpl. Strickland attempted to fight the flames with a fire extinguisher, but his efforts were futile. Realizing this, he made the valiant decision to place his own safety at risk to save the driver, who moments before had attempted to evade him. L/Cpl. Strickland reached into the burning vehicle and pulled the suspect to safety away from the flames.
L/Cpl. Strickland sustained no injury during this incident. While the violator was injured, he owes his life to L/Cpl. Strickland’s selfless thinking and response.
The Troop One Trooper of the Year is Trooper First Class Kevin Middleton Caldwell of Post C (Lexington): TFC Caldwell was nominated for this award for the combination of his outstanding enforcement efforts along with his community, church and civic participation. Trooper First Class Caldwell began in 1999 to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a State Trooper by working as a telecommunications operator. After a long wait for a Patrol Class, he was accepted in 2007. Since reporting to his assignment in Post C, he has gained the respect of his supervisors, co-workers and the citizens of Lexington County.
He has a passionate commitment in removing the reckless and impaired drivers from the state’s roadways. Trooper First Class Caldwell maintains the one of the highest overall averages for arrests within all of Troop One.
Trooper First Class Caldwell’s work ethic and commitment go beyond his job. He owns and operates a large scale lawn care business that employs several people and cares for his wife, Jennifer Byrd Caldwell, who suffers from a debilitating medical condition. TFC Caldwell is active in his church and the local law enforcement community in Lexington County.
For the past three years, Trooper First Class Caldwell has helped lead several programs in his church, including one that assists people in the community who are addicted to alcohol and other substances. He is also the co-founder of a program at his church called COPS – Christian Officers Professing the Savior. This program is a ministry comprised of other law enforcement officers who know and understand the pressures and stresses of the profession.
TFC Caldwell is so admired by his supervisors and co-workers that he was selected as their “Trooper of the Year” in 2008. This award was named for Patrolman Ben Strickland, who died in the line of duty in 1974. He also has received honors from the Troop One Command Staff two years in a row for making his high activity in taking impaired drivers off the highway.
Trooper First Class Caldwell gives 110 percent in everything he does. His values and work ethic are beyond reproach.
The Troop Two Trooper of the Year is Trooper First Class William “Cody” Bishop of Troop Two, Post B, Abbeville/Greenwood:
TFC William “Cody” Bishop consistently distinguishes himself in his attention to detail in making quality cases, cultivating close relationships with other law enforcement agencies, and by being a leader in his community -- dedicated to working with children and underprivileged families.
TFC Bishop knows and understands his community well, which he has used to help make him a better investigator in complicated cases. He grew up in Greenwood and has stayed close to home. He began his law enforcement career in September 2004 working for the Greenwood City Police Department. From there he went to the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office and worked there from 2006 until he began Patrol School in March 2008.
During 2009, TFC Bishop made more than 1,200 cases. The quality of his work can be illustrated by a case he worked on September 25. TFC Bishop responded to a hit-and-run collision on Highway 25 in Greenwood County that resulted in a fatality. TFC Bishop worked well past his assigned hours and his scheduled day off that weekend to obtain leads from informants. He accomplished this largely through relationships he had developed while working with the Greenwood City Police Department. He was able to identify, locate and arrest the suspect.
The subject was charged with reckless homicide, leaving the scene of a collision resulting in death, along with several other violations. TFC Bishop remained in constant contact with the family, throughout not only the investigation, but also the entire judicial process. These values are consistent in TFC Bishop’s daily performance and reflect the working relationship he has developed with law enforcement agencies within Abbeville and Greenwood Counties. He is well respected by his peers -- not only on the South Carolina Highway Patrol -- but also with other Law Enforcement Agencies. The Abbeville Lion’s Club selected TFC Bishop as the 2009 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, in February.
TFC Bishop is also active with his family including wife, Gina, and son, William Banks Bishop. They are members of Southside Baptist Church. TFC Bishop, who is an avid hunter, has volunteered his time for the past seven years to “Hunters with Special Needs.” This program takes abused children to a hunting preserve for a day of supervised shooting, hunting, and fishing. TFC Bishop also assists with South Carolina Special Olympics and the Buck-A-Cup Program.
The Troop Three Trooper of the Year is Lance Corporal Jeff Fortner of Post D (Spartanburg):
L/Cpl. Fortner’s day-to-day performance is extraordinary and he continually exceeds his commitment to the citizens of South Carolina. On several occasions Lance Corporal Fortner has received commendations from citizens of the upstate regarding his dedication and professionalism. Lance Corporal Fortner’s work on a recent felony driving under the influence case illustrates his dedication.
On June 7, 2009, Lance Corporal Fortner was dispatched to a fatal wreck on SC 290 that involved a pedestrian. When Lance Corporal Fortner arrived on scene, he encountered a woman who told him she was a passenger in the truck that struck and killed a pedestrian on the side of the road. The woman told Fortner that the driver of the vehicle fled the scene moments after the wreck.
Investigators from the Highway Patrol and the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office collected the vehicle’s air bag and sent it to SLED for analysis. Fortner asked Blakely to voluntarily submit a blood sample in the hours following the wreck. Drops of Blakely’s blood were found on the airbag. SLED’s lab tests also revealed that her blood alcohol level was double the legal limit. When confronted with the new evidence, the suspect changed her story and admitted to being the driver of the truck.
Lance Corporal Fortner invested a tremendous amount of time in the investigation and his hard work paid off when he filed a felony driving under the influence case. The criminal case wrapped up earlier this month when Blakely received 15 years behind bars on a guilty plea.
Lance Corporal Fortner made 68 DUI arrests during the 2009 calendar year. He has remained focused despite some difficult challenges in his personal life. Fortner’s wife, Jennifer, was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The couple is attacking her medical challenges with the same enthusiasm that Jeff brings to work every day. Lance Corporal Fortner is seen by his peers as professional and dedicated not only at work but as a family man.
Lance Corporal Fortner provides ongoing guidance to lower ranking officers and is a trooper that other troopers look to in a time of need. He not only provides assistance to his fellow troopers but continues to go beyond his required duties to assist the people of South Carolina.
The Troop Four Trooper of the Year nominee is Senior Trooper Wofford B. Caughman of Post A, Cherokee and Union counties: Senior Trooper Wofford Caughman’s attitude toward his job and other people set him apart in all that he does. He is vested in his community and this allows him to make vital connections that can be critical in solving difficult cases. S/Tpr. Caughman became a member of the South Carolina Highway Patrol in July 2005. He previously served as a Deputy with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office. S/Tpr. Caughman reports to work each day with enthusiasm, which positively influences those around him. S/Trooper Caughman consistently has a high number of arrests for Driving under the Influence of Alcohol and/or Drugs. He frequently gives safety presentations with an emphasis on DUI, speed and safety belt compliance. S/Tpr. Caughman networks and partners with local officers in the education and enforcement push towards saving lives.
In April 2009, S/Tpr. Caughman pursued a suspect on I-85 who failed to stop for blue lights and siren. The pursuit entered Spartanburg County, where the violator lost control and overturned in a creek, trapping the passenger in the car. The passenger was subsequently freed from the vehicle, where he was found to be in possession of six grams of crack cocaine. The driver had fled on foot but was later located in a taxi on I-85. S/Tpr. Caughman charged the driver for Failure to Stop for Blue Lights and the passenger with Possession with Intent to Distribute Crack Cocaine.
In August, S/Tpr. Caughman investigated a collision where a 19 year old female was killed in a single car collision. The young lady was found to be under the influence of alcohol. S/Tpr. Caughman coordinated with SLED, and the person responsible for supplying her with alcohol was charged with involuntary manslaughter. According to information obtained, this is the second time this charge has been made for a similar incident in South Carolina.
These two incidents illustrate his commitment to meticulous investigation techniques and following the trail of small facts that might lead to arrests.
S/Tpr. Caughman is well respected by the community, his peers and local law enforcement officers. S/Tpr. Caughman is married to Cayce and they have two children. The Caughmans are active members at Southside Baptist Church in Gaffney.
The Troop Five Trooper of the Year is Lance Corporal Bradley P. Norris, Post A, Darlington/Marlboro counties:
L/Cpl. Norris is a consistent professional and a tireless worker with a drive and commitment to rid the roadways of impaired drivers. There was a specific case that he worked on July 11, 2009, that influenced him profoundly. L/Cpl. Norris investigated a triple fatality outside of Hartsville in Darlington County. The victims, all members of the same family, were stopped at a traffic light when their vehicle was rear-ended by the violator. This collision resulted in the deaths of two young men and their grandmother. The driver of the at fault vehicle was arrested for four counts of felony DUI; three involving death and one great bodily injury. L/Cpl. Norris had to explain to the victims’ family members the details of this collision. In doing so he realized that one victim had lost his mother, his son and a cousin in this collision. This made an impact on L/Cpl. Norris and his approach to ridding our highways of impaired drivers and being able to motivate his fellow officers to do the same.
In the nine months following this collision, he has made 1,021 enforcement cases, of which 401 were restraint violations, and 52 were DUI arrests. L/Cpl. Norris completes detailed reports of all of his arrests and he takes detailed field notes on all collisions he investigates. L/Cpl. Norris uses these reports, along with other evidence, in the prosecution of his cases. He graduated from Hartsville High School in Darlington County and is uniquely devoted to his community. He is married and has two children. He attends Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence County. As a local business owner, he sponsors two baseball teams within Post A. He also sponsors a golf team to raise money for the Children’s Make a Wish Foundation.
L/Cpl. Norris is an example for other officers to emulate. He feels strongly that it is his duty to carry out the mission of the South Carolina Highway Patrol while always maintaining his core values both on and off duty.
The Troop Six Trooper of the Year isLance Corporal Robert A. Strickland, Post B (Colleton, Dorchester): (See narrative under Valor Awards):. The incident that earned L/Cpl. Strickland the Director’s Valor award is consistent with his character as a trooper. He consistently leads the Troop in overall activity and good, quality DUI arrests. He is a proactive trooper and has been instrumental in DUI and drug prevention. L/Cpl. Strickland grew up in the Walterboro/Colleton area. He knows this area well. He is active in his community through Great Swamp Baptist Church and the Elks Lodge Board in Walterboro. Through the Elks Lodge, he is active in community outreach working with veterans. He has a 4 year old daughter, Hannah.
The Troop Seven Trooper of the Year is Corporal James R. LaChance of Post B (Calhoun, Orangeburg): Corporal LaChance has distinguished himself as a leader in DUI enforcement and prosecution in the Orangeburg area. He is a tremendous asset not only to the Highway Patrol but he also contributes much to his community. He is instrumental in fundraising and coaching Little League baseball. He volunteers his time to go to area schools for safety presentations and for career fairs.
LaChance comes from a law enforcement background with his parents and three brothers all working in a law enforcement capacity. Corporal LaChance joined the South Carolina Highway Patrol in 1991 and was assigned to Beaufort County and later transferred to Berkeley County. In April 2004, he transferred to Troop Seven/Post B to work in Orangeburg and Calhoun Counties.
In May of 2007, Corporal LaChance made a traffic stop of a vehicle on the US-21 bypass in Orangeburg County that raised his suspicion. The vehicle had a camera system in the rear tailgate and the driver, Sigmund James, possessed $8,000 in cash. Corporal LaChance contacted DEA agents and an investigation began that lasted over two years reaching from Orangeburg to Georgia, Florida and Texas. This investigation became known as ‘Operation Bitter Orange.’ Over the next two years, Troopers in Orangeburg assisted DEA with traffic stops and provided additional information. The investigation culminated in 2009 with over 54 drug and money laundering convictions, the seizure of more than 30 kilograms of powder cocaine, and the seizure of more than $1 (million) in assets. The Federal authorities acknowledge that the success of ‘Operation Bitter Orange’ was made possible by the traffic stop and subsequent court testimony of Corporal LaChance. This case was also selected as South Carolina’s Case of the Year for 2009 by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force.
The Troop Eight Trooper of the Year is L/Cpl. Greg Elgin of the ACE Team: L/Cpl. Elgin is highly committed to promoting highway safety as a core value of the Highway Patrol. He demonstrates integrity, challenge and drive in his daily responsibilities of promoting highway safety as a member of the motor unit. Not only does he do an outstanding job in an enforcement capacity, he has a strong sense of ethics and values -- both inside and outside the organization. He made over 2,100 contacts last year. He is a leader in his community – both actively involved in his church and as a volunteer for the local fire department. He is a coach with the little league baseball program in Anderson.
L/Cpl. Elgin is a motivator. He uses these skills to build a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie on both his ACE motorcycle team and the little league baseball team that he assists with coaching. He takes pride in spending time mentoring children through sports programs. Through his church programs, he provides visionary leadership for a large group of church volunteers. On the job, he places a strong emphasis on producing quality cases and not simply enforcing but taking time to educate motorists as well. He is trustworthy, courteous and highly respected among his peers.
The Troop Nine Trooper of the Year is Corporal Russell S. Ashe of the Coastal MAIT Unit:
Corporal Ashe has been a member of the Coastal MAIT for approximately two years. As a new team member, he made immediate contributions through his attention to detail and his work ethic. For the past several years, Cpl. Ashe has been involved in the writing of the SCHP’s annual report. He was tasked with this for the 2008 year and did an exemplary job in completing this report. During 2009, his responsibilities grew considerably. Cpl. Ashe is the MAIT training officer in the Coastal MAIT Region and during this past year, he trained and continues to work with the two newest members of the Coastal Unit. Because he had just finished this process himself, he had a grasp of the basics necessary for the completion of our mission and the commitment to continue working with both, helping them grow as members of our unit.
Within the statewide MAIT, he has accepted several additional assignments. Cpl. Ashe was chosen as a member of the MAIT’s Special Response Team. His knowledge of collision reconstruction continues to grow and his abilities give him a unique perspective on collisions, which aid in every case with which he is associated. He is also a member of the Research and Development Team, which has made several improvements within our unit. He is an integral part both of the Coastal MAIT and the statewide unit. Outside of his job at the Highway Patrol, he is a licensed pilot, a talented woodworker and pianist. His family is an integral part of his life.
The Troop Eleven Trooper of the Year is Cpl. Russell Bell of Executive Services:
Corporal Bell has been assigned to the Strategic Planning Unit since its beginning in January 2004 and currently serves as the Project Director for Grants Administration as well as overseeing Policy. His leadership of the Grants Administration has resulted in numerous grant awards for both the agency and the division. His management of both the research and application process as well as the complex grant guidelines upon award has ensured the agency is in compliance with grant restrictions and that goals and objectives are met. His meticulous work provides resassurance that any award can withstand future scrutinty or audit. In addition, his proper management of awarded funding ensures the grantor that the South Carolina Highway Patrol has creative ideas for grant funding and that we can manage the process accordingly. This credibility increases our division’s chances for future grant funding.
Corporal Bell has proven invaluable as it relates to his knowledge of DPS Policy and the South Carolina Code of Law as well as demonstrating the ability to make accurate recommendations as they relate to assigned projects. He continuously looks ahead at legislative issues that may impact the Highway Patrol and provides excellent recommendations on issues regarding legislation. He assists Troop 1 personnel by investigating collisions that he approaches as well as volunteering to respond to collisions in times of heightened calls for service. Outside DPS, Corporal Bell creates partnerships by representing the Highway Patrol at Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other functions.
He has developed numerous contacts from other State Police/Highway Patrol agencies. In addition, Corporal Bell -- without complaint – agrees to pinch hit for headquarters personnel in areas of office duty, special assignments or wherever he is needed. Cpl. Bell is a person of integrity and honesty and always represents the Highway Patrol in a professional manner.
Trooper of the Year: Congratulations: TFC Kevin Caldwell, Post C, Lexington Telecommunications Officer of Year: The nominee for the Charleston TCC is TCO Jennifer DuPree: Ms. DuPree has been employed by the South Carolina Highway Patrol Communications Unit since 2007. During that time, she has completed her required training and has received several certifications. She is willing to learn new procedures and assist other TCOs if they are busy during their shift. Ms. DuPree checks all her paperwork and CAD entries to ensure that they are accurate and entered in a timely fashion. She asks the supervisors questions if she is unsure of something and follows the chain of command. If a relieving TCO calls in to advise they will be running late due to an emergency, she is usually the first one on her shift to volunteer. She assists the public and the law enforcement community in a professional and timely manner whenever they call into the TCC. If she is unable to help, she will direct them to the correct department or agency that would be able to assist them. Ms. DuPree gets along with all SCHP personnel in the center and Troop 6.
TCO DuPree is married and has two children and three step children. She is active at all three schools assisting with fund raising events and other functions.
The nominee for the Florence TCC is TCO Valerie Cotton:
Ms. Cotton began her career with the Communications Unit in 2007 after transferring to us from another state agency. Ms. Cotton views her position as a career and it shows in her performance. Her genuine initiative and outstanding work ethic are among the driving forces behind her success. She is compassionate, determined to succeed, dedicated, and loyal to duty and responsibility. Ms. Cotton has a keen sense and ability to always lighten the mood in the Center, making the operators smile no matter how hectic the day becomes. TCO Cotton genuinely enjoys and appreciates her life, enjoys laughing, and enjoys helping others.
In October 2009 I assigned TCO Cotton to train a new employee -- an additional responsibility that she took on without hesitation. Her trainee has learned many of her traits such as dedication to duty as well as the responsibilities of the telecommunications operator. She has earned the respect of her trainee and has a tremendous rapport with him.
TCO Cotton has two beautiful daughters both of whom she is very proud. They live in Hartsville and are members of Greenhill Baptist Church where Valerie serves on the Senior Usher Board. She comes from a very close knit family headed by a mother who has obviously instilled a sense of pride with strong family values and a determination to succeed.
The nominee for the Greenwood Telecommunications Center is TCO Jessica Armstrong:
Ms. Armstrong has been with the center for a little over one year. Since she came into this center she has learned her job with the greatest of speed and accuracy. Jessica can run any console in the center without hesitation and helps all operators. She comes into work whenever called and will assist all operators if they need to switch a shift. Ms. Armstrong can work with anyone without any problems and assists whenever the need arises. Ms. Armstrong has been an invaluable asset to this center, by bringing joy and kindness when she comes into work. She often has a quick laugh for everyone and a great attitude.
Ms. Armstrong has a helpful attitude at all times and will assist anyone in need. She goes above and beyond what others would deem necessary to help out. TCO Armstrong is a young operator in age, however, you would not know it in her attitude and the dedication that she shows daily for Highway Patrol.
The nominee for the Spartanburg TCC is TCO Anne Pitts:
TCO Pitts was hired in September 2007. She truly understands what it is like to be a law enforcement officer. Before coming on with SCDPS Communications she was an officer for over nine years with her last position being a violent crimes detective with the Horry County Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, her husband is a trooper.
TCO Pitts is a very meticulous operator and follows policies and procedures to the very best of her ability. She excels on the CAD calls and is a very thorough operator. Due to her abilities, attitude and dedication to the job we decided she would make a great trainer. Since beginning her training, she has trained two employees and is working on her third trainee at this time. Anne is a very detailed trainer and does her very best to ensure that the TCOs she trains operate the same way. Anne shows leadership skills on her crew by helping to keep the morale up on her crew and helps to make sure things are done in order.
Ms. Wooden came to work with the Department of Public Safety on November 2, 2006. TCO Wooden is always willing to go the extra mile to assist the Blythewood Communications Center in any capacity needed. On several occasions she has worked unscheduled hours to ensure coverage. TCO Wooden has worked every Statewide Driving Under the Influence Public Safety Checkpoint scheduled so far this year. These were all unscheduled hours. TCO Wooden plays a vital part in the Hurricane Evacuation Drills. She is always willing to assist other operators whether it is calling wreckers, running traffic, or just relieving them so that they can take a break.
TCO Wooden is also a designated trainer for the Blythewood Telecommunications Center. She has trained several operators within the last two years and has done an excellent job of making sure that the new operators are trained correctly. TCO Wooden makes it very clear that our top priority in the communications center is officer safety. She has a great attitude, genuine concern for officer’s safety, and unselfish dedication to the job.
Telecommunications Officer of the Year for 2009. Congratulations. TCO Mary Wooden