Sheriff Hoffman Holds Awards Ceremony

NEWS RELEASE 21-015 - MARCH 9, 2021

Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman presented several awards during a ceremony Tuesday to recognize employees who demonstrated exemplary service to their community.

Corrections Sergeant John May as well as Corrections Deputies Jeffrey Mendez, Roland Martinez, and Jason Namors received the Life Saving Award for their efforts to revive an inmate following her attempt to commit suicide. On October 21, 2020, a female inmate was seen tying bedsheets into a loop and attaching it to the top bunk of her cell. Realizing the risk of her actions, Deputy Martinez called for assistance over the radio. Deputy Mendez was first to arrive at the cellblock followed shortly by Deputy Namors and Sergeant May. They found the inmate with the sheet wrapped around her neck and unable to breathe or reach the floor with her feet. Deputy Martinez immediately went to retrieve a rope knife from a nearby control room while the other deputies lifted the inmate to relieve the tension on her neck. Sergeant May loosened the knotted sheet, allowing them to lower her to the floor. Although she was able to breathe again, the inmate continued attempting to injure herself, so deputies quickly secured her to prevent further harm. It is through their timely intervention that Sergeant May, Deputy Mendez, Deputy Namors, and Deputy Martinez were able to save the inmate’s life.

Sergeant Troy Sasse with K-9 Indy, Deputy Taylor Garrison and Deputy Justin Potter (not pictured) are presented with the Life Saving Award for their successful efforts to locate and rescue a missing dementia patient from a pond. Deputies responded to a Venice home shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve for a report of a missing elderly man who suffered from dementia. His wife told deputies he left on foot, possibly behind neighboring houses according to the last known GPS location from his cell phone. Sergeant Sasse and K-9 Indy began to search the area, tracking to thick brush along the edge of a nearby retention pond. After searching through heavy vegetation, Sergeant Sasse finally located the man in the water with his head barely above the surface. Deputy Potter and Deputy Garrison came to the man’s aid, entering the water and safely bringing him to shore. If not for the quick actions and teamwork of Sergeant Sasse, K-9 Indy, Deputy Potter and Deputy Garrison, the man would likely not have survived.

Deputies Britton Turner and Richard Starowesky received the Life Saving Award for their efforts to save the life of a man who suffered a serious gunshot wound. Deputies initially responded on October 16, 2020, to an altercation at a gas station in Englewood. Deputy Turner was first on scene and found a man with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Without hesitation, Deputy Turner began applying pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding using towels from inside the gas station. Deputy Starowesky retrieved his agency-issued medical bag, placed a proper dressing over the wound, and assumed care of the victim until paramedics arrived. The combined efforts of Deputy Turner and Deputy Starowesky helped slow blood loss, allowing the victim to survive his life-threatening injury.

Deputies Christopher McConnell and Sean O’Brien (not pictured) are presented with the Life Saving Award for successfully intervening in a woman's attempt to end her life with carbon monoxide poisoning. Deputies responded on December 25, 2020, after the victim sent a message to a friend about ending her life. While attempting to locate the victim at her home, deputies noticed a car in the garage with the engine running. Deputies O’Brien and McConnell opened the main garage door to ventilate the exhaust fumes and found the victim unresponsive inside the car. They immediately pulled the victim out of the garage to safety where she was treated by paramedics and transported to the hospital. The self-sacrificing actions of Deputy O’Brien and Deputy McConnell successfully stopped the victim's attempt at suicide and gave her a second chance at life.

The Corrections Classification Unit received the Unit Citation Award for their recent work to safely manage inmate population during the global pandemic. In response to the growing public health emergency posed by COVID-19, members of the Classification Unit were tasked with coordinating cellblocks and housing units that were on quarantine or isolation status. In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, all newly booked arrestees were placed on quarantine status for 31 days, while existing inmates with potential exposures were housed separately for 31 days as well. Additionally, any inmate who contracted COVID-19 was isolated for 20 days in a designated cellblock away from general population. The Classification Unit not only created signage to ensure all correctional staff and inmates were aware of necessary precautions, but the group also established a flowchart to track daily available bedspace along with the quarantine or isolation timeframe of each affected inmate. In order to conduct inmate interviews without the threat of exposure, the Classification Unit implemented office webcams, which have proven to be so efficient, they are now permanently utilized. Despite facing shorthanded staffing due to medical or military leave, the unit was able to employ these accommodations in addition to their regular responsibilities. Corrections Sergeant Michelle Gilbert, Corrections Deputies Dominique Moona and Aleksandra Yefremova, along with Classification Specialists John Evanish (posthumously recognized), Agnes Traska, Elizabeth Horton, Brenden Tutko, and Wesley Johnson (not pictured), accomplished a high standard of work in the face of adversity and are an exceptional example of sheriff’s office values.

Sergeant Matthew Tuggle received the Heroic Achievement Award for his efforts to save a woman trapped in a drowning vehicle. On January 4, 2021, Sergeant Tuggle was first on scene along Hatchett Creek Blvd., in Venice, where a woman swerved off the road and into a pond. The vehicle floated toward the center of the pond and quickly started sinking. Without hesitation, Sergeant Tuggle jumped into the water and began swimming toward the sinking vehicle. Sergeant Tuggle was able to see an elderly female in the front seat however, she was unresponsive. Sergeant Tuggle quickly broke the rear passenger window and with the help of responding paramedics, pulled the woman to safety. As they swam back to shore, the woman regained consciousness and was treated for minor cuts and scrapes. It is thanks to Sergeant Tuggle’s heroic actions that this woman survived.

Deputies Christopher Olsson and Joshua Rizzo received the Heroic Achievement Award for their efforts to pull a man from a burning vehicle. On October 26, 2020, Deputies Olsson and Rizzo responded to a single-vehicle crash with entrapment along Bee Ridge Road. When they arrived, deputies located the Chevy Corvette fully engulfed, with the driver trapped inside. Without hesitation, deputies voluntarily placed themselves in harm’s way to extricate the driver from the vehicle. With downed wires from the electric pole and flames coming from the vehicle, deputies did not hesitate or think about the dangers they faced to save the driver’s life. The deputies pulled the driver from the vehicle feeling the heat from the fire just behind the driver’s seat. They carried him away from the fire with the help of bystanders and began CPR on the driver until paramedics arrived. Rescue personnel continued CPR efforts for an extended period of time until tragically pronouncing the driver deceased. Despite the fatal outcome, Deputies Olsson and Rizzo are commended for their selfless and heroic actions to preserve this man’s life.

Deputies Anthony Egoville and Michael Nickerson received the Life Saving Award after they saved a one-year-old child who drowned in the family swimming pool. On November 28, deputies responded to a Venice home where the infant accidentally fell into the pool and was unresponsive. When they arrived, deputies confirmed the child had no vital signs and immediately began administering CPR. Deputies continued lifesaving efforts as paramedics arrived. The child was placed into an ambulance where Deputies Egoville and Nickerson continued CPR until paramedics were able to take over lifesaving efforts. Hospital staff continued to treat the child and eventually helped the child regain a consistent heartbeat. When the child was still not breathing on her own, she was placed on a ventilator and transferred to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg where she was intubated for 10 days. The child miraculously made a full recovery thanks to the swift action of both deputies. The child and her family were in attendance Tuesday during the ceremony.

Deputies Jeremy Burbidge, Christian Cedano and Tyler Majka received the Life Saving Award after they pulled a man from a burning vehicle and saved his life. On December 4, 2020, deputies were called to S. Tamiami Trail and Rubens Drive in Nokomis for a crash involving a fully engulfed vehicle. When deputies arrived, they located the heavily damaged truck with flames coming from the passenger side dash and windshield. Deputy Majka approached the truck and yelled for anyone that may have been inside but received no response. Based on the thick smoke, deputies were unable to visually determine if the vehicle was occupied. As Deputy Burbidge activated his fire extinguisher, deputies heard someone moaning from within the vehicle. Deputies immediately attempted to gain access from the driver’s side of the vehicle. The door was locked so they began breaking the window to gain entry. When some of the smoke cleared, deputies located the victim lying on the floorboard of the truck with his head covered in flames. Once deputies were able to open the vehicle, they pulled the victim to safety. Paramedics arrived and assumed treatment of the victim. It is with credit to these three deputies and their quick actions, that the victim survived this terrifying event.

Members of the Aviation Unit received the Meritorious Achievement Award for their achievements over the past year. In 2020, the Aviation Unit saw an increase of 32% in calls for service and a 19% increase in calls related to locating suspects or missing people. The unit assisted ground units with varying calls to include locating lost hikers, lost dementia patients, fleeing suspects, firefighting, and more. Recently, the unit served as overwatch support during two significant calls for service that ultimately turned into deputy-involved shootings. On two separate occasions in May 2020, members of the unit responded to two calls in which they helped patrol deputies make significant finds of burglary and theft suspects. In July, the unit assisted North Port Police with an active call regarding a man with a gun who was firing shots and was reportedly suicidal. While on scene, the unit directed ground units and kept them updated with movements of the suspect to keep everyone safe. The man eventually directed his weapon towards the officers, who used deadly force in return. The very next month, the unit was called out to assist with a missing, suicidal person. While on scene, the subject was spotted by the Aviation Unit and ground units. They once again conducted overwatch for the ground units to keep everyone involved safe.

The operations of the unit and the effort it takes to keep the two Bell 407 helicopters in working order are also paramount to the unit’s success. Both aircraft require several hours of maintenance every month. Mechanics help maintain both aircraft to ensure they are always available to the sheriff’s office and surrounding jurisdictions, as needed. The pilots, tactical flight officers and mechanics all have very important jobs within the unit. Their dedication to safety is evident, as is their work ethic.

During Tuesday’s ceremony, Chief Pilot Brent Wineka, Deputy Pilot David Bouffard, Deputy Pilot Christopher Laster, Aviation Mechanic Arthur Grassia, Aviation Mechanic Douglas Wenz, TFO Lieutenant Adam Kaskey, TFO Sergeant Samuel Lutz, TFO Deputies Mark Eve and Raymond Vleck, TFO Detectives Hayden Gallof and Brendan Keats, and TFO Radio Technician Steven Duzs were recognized with the Meritorious Achievement Award. Deputy Pilot Stephen Shull, who died in November 2020, was also recognized posthumously. His wife Katie accepted the award on his behalf.