Published on Thursday, May 18, 2006
in the First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- They're credited with potentially saving countless innocent lives. The Florida Highway Patrol troopers had to think fast and stay calm when Melissa Ferris shot and killed her passenger along Interstate-95. She then turned the gun on herself and toward people at the scene.
That shooting happened a year ago. Now some of the troopers are being honored for their bravery. It was as intense as it gets.
A driver who just shot her passenger and then turned her gun at troopers. "At that point there was no time to be power hungry so to speak and we just coordinated our efforts without actually communicating."
Sgt. Jeff Gay was the Shift Supervisor when Ferris and Jeffrey Opp were pulled over on I-95. They were on the run from a murder they committed in Tennessee.
Now Opp was dead and Ferris was surrounded by officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and Troopers from the Florida Highway Patrol.
"First and foremost is officer safety. It's going through my mind, these are my guys and I don't want anything to happen to them and I want to make the right choice and the right decision."
Sgt. Harry Fouraker was also there and feared that if Ferris fired her weapon or if troopers had to, someone in the surrounding area would be hurt.
"The area behind her had many many vehicles and many citizens and motorists which were really compromised if they had discharged their weapons and if she fired hers there was a good chance that people would have been injured behind her."
As Sgt. Fouraker tried to talk Ferris into surrendering with a microphone, Sgt. Gay was taking aim at Ferris in case he had to fire to protect his men or anyone else in the area.
"I don't want to lose a friend. I don't want to lose a colleague, but at the same time I didn't want to shoot the suspect. There was a point where she wouldn't drop the firearm and after all these years on patrol it was actually my first time I remember thinking I'm going to fire at a human being."
But he wouldn't have to because Sgt. Fouraker used the loudspeaker to talk Ferris out of her car and into giving up.
"I indicated to her that there was still hope. And there was still a chance and she had not gone to a point of no return and I asked what we could to facilitate her to get her to surrender and to eliminate any further danger."
Sgt. Gay says it was a critical conversation that he credits with saving countless lives. "He was able to gain her confidence and in a calm fashion get her to lay the firearm down right at the point where this situation was getting ready to escalate into something worse than it was."
Because of their team and quick action four of the FHP Troopers including Fouraker and Gay are being recognized for the valor on that dangerous day. "It does feel good because we don't hear that the positive stuff very often in our line of business."