Thomas P. O'Neill
Troop D - Cocoa
Robert E. Morton
Troop D - Cocoa
William E. Richards
Troop F - Ft. Myers
Lieutenant Thomas P. O'Neill and Corporal Robert E. Morton have been selected as co-recipients of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for March, 1997, based on their heroic efforts to rescue two civilians who had been pinned down by gunfire. Corporal William E. Richards has also been selected as a co-recipient based on his actions which resulted in the rescue of a kidnapping victim.
On March 27, 1997, at approximately 1:35 p.m., Lieutenant O'Neill and Corporal Morton responded with the Troop D Tactical Response Team to the Pine Hills area of Orange County, Florida. The Orange County Sheriff's Office had requested the assistance of the Florida Highway Patrol Troop D Tactical Response Team and the Tactical Response Team (TRT) Vehicle in a Sniper/High Risk Rescue of two civilians pinned down by gunfire.
Upon arriving at the command post, Lieutenant O'Neill and Corporal Morton met with the Orange County SWAT Team commander and it was determined that the Tactical Response Team Vehicle would be used to rescue the civilians. Members of the Orange County Sheriff's Office SWAT Team were transported to the area in the TRT vehicle. It was determined that the front of the TRT vehicle would be placed directly in the line of fire allowing members of the SWAT Team to exit the rear of the vehicle in safety to conduct the rescue. Corporal Morton drove the TRT vehicle while Lieutenant O'Neill commanded the operation from within the vehicle.
As the TRT vehicle stopped adjacent to the first civilian pinned down by gunfire, several gunshots were fired by the barricaded suspect at the TRT vehicle. The civilian, though injured with numerous glass cuts, was able to crawl to a position of safety behind the vehicle and enter the TRT vehicle without any further injury.
The second civilian was also lying on the ground using a tree for cover. The TRT vehicle was positioned directly in the line of fire to provide maximum cover for the SWAT Team and the civilian. The second civilian was also able to crawl to the vehicle and enter without injury.
The TRT vehicle was then safely removed from the immediate area. Upon returning to the staging area, the TRT vehicle was inspected for damage. Five (5) bullet impacts were discovered on the two windshields, three (3) on the driver's side and two (2) on the passenger's side.
A second request to rescue a civilian was made by the SWAT Team Commander. An elderly female was trapped in a house directly in the line of fire of the sniper. The TRT vehicle was again driven to the rescue point placing the front of the vehicle directly in the line of fire. This allowed the members of the Orange County SWAT Team safe egress from the rear of the TRT vehicle to safely remove the elderly female from danger. This rescue was completed without incident.
Several more requests were received to have the TRT vehicle transport additional officers and supplies to the inner perimeter. Corporal Morton drove the TRT vehicle during the entire operation, successfully fulfilling every request made by the Orange County SWAT Team commander.
Both Lieutenant O'Neill and Corporal Morton displayed outstanding personal bravery, gallantry and courage by placing themselves in great personal danger while protecting the lives of the civilians trapped by the sniper and protecting the members of the Orange County SWAT Team. Their actions were without hesitation, even though they were fully aware of the eminent danger they were facing.
Lieutenant O'Neill is a 21-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol. Corporal Morton is a 25-year veteran. Both are assigned to Troop D, Cocoa.
On Sunday, March 16, 1997, Corporal William E. Richards was patrolling Interstate 75 in Charlotte County. At approximately 8:50 a.m., he spotted a Chevrolet southbound with an obscured tag. Richards stopped the car and issued the driver a warning for the tag violation and sent him on his way. As the driver pulled back onto the interstate, he pulled directly in front of a southbound car, nearly causing a crash. Corporal Richards pulled the car over again.
As Richards approached the rear of the vehicle, he heard someone banging on the inside of the trunk and a woman screaming for help. He immediately secured the driver and opened the trunk. Inside was 32-year-old Deleda Brinson of Bradenton, who was unharmed but obviously in distress.
Investigation revealed that Ms. Brinson had pulled into a Burger King restaurant in Bradenton at approximately 6:50 a.m. for breakfast. As she was walking to the front door, she was approached by Jonas Baptiste of Bradenton. Baptiste pulled a gun on her and forced her back into her car. He then made her drive around the Bradenton area for a short time before making her drive to a remote area, where he robbed her of about $100 and forced her into the trunk of her car. He then drove the car to Interstate 75 and was heading south toward Miami, until he was stopped by Corporal Richards.
Baptiste was charged with kidnapping, armed robbery, auto theft, false imprisonment, and a host of other charges. Due to Corporal Richards' alert actions, he was able to secure an armed felon and rescue Ms. Brinson. Richards' actions ended an extremely dangerous situation and certainly averted a much more tragic ending from occurring.
Corporal Richards is an 8-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop F, Ft. Myers.