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DPS Awards highlight exceptional efforts

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AUSTIN – The Texas Public Safety Commission (PSC) and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw presented two Medals of Valor, one Purple Heart, 10 Lifesaving Awards, the 2020 Top Trooper Awards and a Unit Citation to department personnel. Three Director’s Awards were also presented to partner agency personnelat the PSC awards ceremony held Wednesday at the DPS Tactical Training Center in Florence.

“These awards remind of us what our DPS officers do on a daily basis to willingly serve and protect the people of Texas, often under extreme conditions and in dangerous situations,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Their bravery, professionalism and dedication to help their fellow Texans are a credit to this department, and we are honored to recognize them. I would also like to extend our appreciation to Trooper Javier Arana’s family for allowing us to continue honoring his legacy here at DPS through the Top Trooper program.”

The following individuals were presented either medals or awards by DPS Director McCraw and the PSC at the ceremony:

Cpl. Shana Clark, Texas Highway Patrol—Jasper, and Trooper Aaron Jones, Texas Highway Patrol—New Boston, each received the Javier Arana Jr. Top Trooper Award, given annually to the top female and top male competitor. The 9th annual competition was held over four days in February at the Tactical Training Center. In all, 128 Troopers were evaluated on physical conditioning and endurance, driving and firearms skills, and job knowledge in nine events. The Top Trooper competition was established in 2012, and the award was named in honor of Trooper Javier Arana Jr., who was killed in the line of duty in El Paso earlier that same year. Trooper Arana’s family helped present the awards at the ceremony.

Trooper Melina Justiss, Texas Highway Patrol—Midland, received the Medal of Valor, which isthe highest honor and award bestowed by DPS; and Trooper Charles Pryor, Texas Highway Patrol—Midland, received a Purple Heart. On Aug. 31, 2019, as the two DPS Troopers attempted a traffic stop on a suspect vehicle, the suspect lifted a rifle and fired several shots while both vehicles were still in motion. Rounds went through the windshield of the patrol vehicle, striking Pryor in the facial area. The suspect stopped, exited his vehicle and continued firing at the Troopers. Trooper Justiss, who had also pulled over, returned fire with her service firearm, allowing Trooper Pryor to exit the vehicle and take cover. Pryor, who was hit by bullet fragments in his wrist and forearm, directed approaching motorists away from the scene. Due to Justiss returning fire, the suspect retreated to his vehicle and fled the scene. Pryor has already undergone surgeries for his injuries, and additional surgeries are expected. Before the mass shooting incident was finished, the disgruntled, terminated oilfield employee went on a shooting rampage that extended from Midland to Odessa, as the suspect drove through city streets firing at police, the public and other drivers. Seven people died and 22 were injured.

Trooper Justin Basso, Texas Highway Patrol—Sherman, also received the Medal of Valor related to the same mass shooting incident described above. Trooper Basso responded to the last known location of the suspect, which was a road with several businesses. Basso, along with Midland and Odessa police officers, spotted the suspect in a hospital parking lot and began a pursuit. In the process, two police officers were injured by gunfire. As the suspect traveled toward a movie theater and open field where people were exposed, Basso took the lead in the pursuit and fired at the suspect’s vehicle, which was eventually struck and disabled by a Midland officer’s patrol unit. Basso continued to engage the gunman and then assisted local law enforcement with securing the suspect, who died as a result of his injuries.

Major Wayne Matthews, Texas Ranger Division—received a Lifesaving Award. On Jan. 31, 2020, then-Capt. Matthews witnessed a wreck between a motorcycle and a pickup truck in Austin. Matthews immediately began evaluating the medical status of the motorcyclist who had serious injuries to both legs and was losing large amounts of blood. Matthews used his own undershirt to apply a makeshift tourniquet to the victim’s legs and an additional tourniquet from the undershirt of a nearby construction worker, all of which helped control the bleeding.

Trooper Matthew Strube, Texas Highway Patrol—Tyler, received a Lifesaving Award. On July 28, 2019, Trooper Strube responded to a call regarding a possible intoxicated driver and discovered a vehicle with two men in medical distress. Trooper Strube also observed a white powdery substance on one person’s lap, and due to signs of an apparent opioid overdose, he administered four milligrams of Narcan to one of the men. The Trooper’s actions restored normal breathing, pulse and consciousness to that individual. (The second man did not survive.)

Trooper Sean Smith, Texas Highway Patrol—Jacksonville, received a Lifesaving Award. On Oct. 26, 2019, Trooper Smith responded to a rollover crash. When he arrived, he found a woman outside of the crashed vehicle with her left arm severed above the wrist. Responding quickly, Trooper Smith applied a tourniquet to her upper arm, which immediately stopped the bleeding. Once the woman was stabilized, he kept her calm and monitored her until EMS arrived.

Trooper Matthew Beard, Texas Highway Patrol—Beeville, received a Lifesaving Award. On Oct. 4, 2019, Trooper Beard responded to assist local law enforcement with a man who was bleeding profusely from an apparent self-inflicted cut on his arm. Beard applied a tourniquet near the bicep, which stopped the bleeding. Trooper Beard then elevated the person’s arm and kept him engaged in conversation and conscious until EMS arrived on the scene.

Sgt. Phillip Davis, Texas Highway Patrol—Palestine, and Trooper Brent Taylor, Texas Highway Patrol—Palestine, both received Lifesaving Awards. On May 5, 2019, they arrived on the scene of a motorcycle crash involving two people who had been thrown from the motorcycle. One man had head trauma, multiple open fractures on both lower legs and was bleeding badly. Sgt. Davis applied a tourniquet to one of the man’s legs, and Trooper Taylor used his tourniquet on the victim’s other leg. The Troopers also kept the man calm until EMS arrived.

Lt. Robert Messenger Jr. and Sgt. Kolton Kendall, Aircraft Operations Division—San Antonio, and Sgt. Aaron Frazier, Texas Highway Patrol—Port Lavaca, all received Lifesaving Awards. On Sept. 20, 2019, during Tropical Storm Imelda, dispatchers received a 911 call from a man who was stuck inside his vehicle in rising flood waters; his exact location was unknown. A DPS helicopter and Jefferson County Deputies responded, but the deputies were unable to go any farther due to flooded roadways. The DPS aircrew continued searching and located the vehicle. The man was trapped inside the vehicle, up to his neck in water. With Lt. Messenger piloting the chopper, Sgt. Frazier was lowered to the vehicle and secured the man in the rescue basket. Sgt. Kendall then hoisted Frazier and the man up to the helicopter, and he was transported to a safe location.

Trooper James Shoemaker, Texas Highway Patrol—McKinney, received a Lifesaving Award, and Wesley Davis, Anna Police Department; Trent Marker, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department; and Cane Shumaker, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, all received Director’s Awards. On Nov. 22, 2019, Trooper Shoemaker witnessed a single-vehicle crash in the city of Anna and found an unresponsive man, woman and infant in the vehicle, which then burst into flames. The Trooper removed the child from the car seat and took him back to his patrol unit. Shoemaker then returned to the vehicle and removed the woman, but the man was still pinned in the burning vehicle. Game Wardens Marker and Shumaker, along with Officer Davis, responded to the scene and began assisting. As Trooper Shoemaker was using his fire extinguisher to slow the flames, Marker, Shumaker and Davis used an additional extinguisher and extricated the driver as flames entered the passenger compartment. Trooper Shoemaker then returned to his patrol vehicle, and as he held the infant, the baby began crying and breathing on his own.

DPS Criminal Investigations Division Special Agents in Denton received a Unit Citation. DPS Special Agents, working with law enforcement partner agencies, have investigated a variety of criminal activity in the Denton area and surrounding counties since 2010, systematically dismantling drug trafficking organizations. Their work resulted in 115 indictments and 112 arrests, along with the seizure of 48 weapons, 48 vehicles, more than $2.5 million in cash, $945,000 in property and approximately 260 pounds of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. DPS personnel recognized as part of the Unit Citation include: Lt. Carlon Stapleton,and Special Agents Craig Bickers, Ross Kallenberg, Margarito Lopez, Armando Lopez, Scott Meeks, Jason West and Chad Poling.

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