Member Recognition

1996 Troopers of the Month

January | Sergeant Robert Astrella

Sergeant Robert Astrella has been selected as the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month for January/1996, for his actions on January 9, 1996, in which he administered basic life support and revived a heart attack victim.

On January 9, 1996, while working an off-duty employment detail on Interstate 95 in Volusia County, Sergeant Astrella witnessed a traffic crash near his location. He immediately responded to the scene, and found that one of the drivers had apparently suffered a heart attack and had no vital signs. Without hesitation, Sergeant Astrella removed the victim from the vehicle and began artificial life support, until relieved by paramedics.

The victim, Mr. Robert J. Gausel, was treated with advanced life support procedures and taken to a nearby hospital. Mr. Gausel later regained vital signs and was stabilized due to the life saving measures provided by Sergeant Astrella.

The quick actions Sergeant Astrella took involving this incident demonstrated his attention to duty, dedication, and commitment to serving the community and the State of Florida.

Sergeant Astrella is a 19-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop D, Deland.


February | Trooper Carlos Vesco and Trooper John Koch

Trooper Carlos Vesco and Trooper John Koch have been selected as co-recipients of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month for February/1996, for their actions on January 30, 1996, in which both troopers administered basic life support to a heart attack victim.

On January 30, 1996, while working an off-duty detail for the United States Marshals at the Federal Courthouse, Troopers Vesco and Koch noticed an elderly man in the audience, Mr. William Bitz, begin gasping for air and collapse. Without hesitation, Trooper Vesco and Trooper Koch immediately administered CPR to Bitz.

After several minutes, Mr. Bitz regained a pulse and began breathing on his own; however, while the troopers monitored Mr. Bitz, he again experienced cardiac arrest and CPR was again initiated.

Both troopers remained with Mr. Bitz administering life support measures until relieved by emergency medical personnel. Although Mr. Bitz later died at the hospital as a result of the heart attack, the efforts of the these troopers speak very highly of their commitment to serving the citizens of the State of Florida.

Trooper Vesco is a 5-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop L, Davie. Trooper Koch is a 10-year veteran assigned to Troop E, Miami.


March | Trooper Richard Elliott and Trooper George Kantor

Trooper Richard J. Elliott and Trooper George Kantor have been selected as co-recipients of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month for March, 1996, for their actions on March 17, 1996, in which they administered basic life support to a choking victim.

On March 17, 1996, at approximately 7:30 p.m., Troopers Elliott and Kantor entered the Denny’s restaurant in Fort Myers for a work break. Upon entering the restaurant, the troopers heard a woman screaming. Rushing to the booth, they found the screaming woman holding her husband, who was not breathing.

Sensing the urgency of the situation, Troopers Elliott and Kantor removed the subject from the booth, and placed him on the floor where life support efforts began. For several minutes the troopers administered CPR, until a pulse and shallow respirations were restored.

Shortly after a pulse and respirations were restored, emergency medical personnel arrived, and took charge of the victim’s care. It was determined that the victim, identified as Mr. Robert Epstein, had stopped breathing due to food being lodged in his throat. Had it not been for the quick actions taken by these troopers, it is likely that Mr. Epstein would not have survived this incident.

Trooper Elliott is a 7-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol. Trooper Kantor is an 11-year veteran. Both troopers are assigned to Troop F, Ft. Myers.


April | Trooper Kevin Kane

Trooper Kevin A. Kane has been selected as the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month for April/1996, for his actions on April 26, 1996, in which he prevented a young female from attempting to take her own life by jumping from a pedestrian overpass.

On April 26, 1996, Trooper Kane responded to a report that a juvenile female was standing outside of the fenced pedestrian overpass located on Florida’s Turnpike north of Sunrise Boulevard. Upon arrival, he found the female, cut and bleeding, standing on the edge of the overpass approximately 30 feet above the roadway. A citizen, Mr. John Vandereems, who stopped to assist the juvenile, had climbed to the overpass and was holding the juveniles legs to prevent her from jumping.

Immediately, Trooper Kane climbed the fence and up to the overpass to assist the juvenile. As he approached her, she began to fall; however, the trooper was able to grab her to prevent the fall. For the next several minutes, you, along with Mr. Vandereems and a Lauderhill police officer struggled with the juvenile until she was restrained and removed from the overpass by firefighters.

Trooper Kane’s quick and unselfish actions prevented the juvenile and Mr. Vandereems from falling from the overpass to the pavement and sustaining serious or possibly even fatal injuries.

Trooper Kane is a 3 1/2-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop K, Pompano Beach. He is one of a family of four employed with the Florida Highway Patrol. His twin brothers are assigned to Troop K, Ft. Pierce. Their father, Lieutenant John J. Kane, is a 33-year veteran of the Patrol assigned to Troop L, Ft. Pierce.


May | Trooper John Vaught

Trooper John T. Vaught has been selected as the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month for May, 1996, for his actions on May 30, 1996, in which he provided service to a stranded citizen trying to return to Dallas, Texas.

On May 30, 1996, Trooper Vaught stopped to assist a stranded citizen, walking near the Lake County Welcome station. The individual had exited his parents’ motor home while the vehicle was being fueled. Unfortunately, the individual’s parents were not aware he had exited the vehicle, and after they finished fueling, they left the individual behind. This left the individual stranded with no money, clothes or means of returning to Dallas, Texas.

After picking the individual up, Trooper Vaught notified all of the FHP stations along the route the parents would be taking. Additionally, Trooper Vaught caused a statewide broadcast to be made in the event the individual was reported as a missing person. Because the individual had no money, Trooper Vaught secured a loan and allowed the individual to stay the night with him.

The next day, Trooper Vaught assisted the subject with travel arrangements via Greyhound bus back to Dallas, Texas. With no further word from the individual’s family, he departed for Dallas Texas. Later, the individual notified Trooper Vaught that he had been reunited with his family in Dallas, Texas.

The help Trooper Vaught provided to this individual was above and beyond the call of duty.

Trooper Vaught is an 8 1/2-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop D, Clermont.


June | Trooper Elizabeth Rupp

Trooper Elizabeth M. Rupp has been selected as the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month for June/1996, for her actions on June 3, 1996, in which she revived a subject who was without vital signs.

On June 3, 1996, Trooper Rupp stopped to investigate a vehicle that had slid off the roadway and down an embankment. As she approached the vehicle, she found the driver lying in the front seat unconscious. Checking further she found that the subject had no vital signs. Trooper Rupp immediately called for emergency medical personnel and then began administering life support to the subject.

Trooper Rupp continued administering life support until the subject began breathing on his own. Shortly after reviving the subject, he was transported to a local hospital where he received treatment.

Trooper Rupp’s quick thinking and the aid she provided to this subject without question saved his life.

Trooper Rupp is a nine-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop K, Pompano Beach.


July | Sergeant Doyle Herring and Trooper Harry Weaver

Sergeant Doyle Herring and Trooper Harry K. Weaver have been selected as co-recipients of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for July/1996, for their actions on July 21, 1996, in which they attempted to revive a subject who was without vital signs.

On July 21, 1996, at approximately 11:55 a.m., a motorist drove to the Florida Highway Patrol office in Lake City and summoned help for his wife who was apparently having a heart attack.

Sergeant Herring and Trooper Weaver, along with Duty Officer Jacklyn Y. Daniels, immediately began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to the victim, who was later identified as Mrs. Hickman. The lifesaving efforts were continued until relieved by emergency medical personnel.

Although Mrs. Hickman later expired, both officers are commended for their efforts and the assistance provided to the Hickman family in their time of need.

Sergeant Herring is a 23-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol. Trooper Weaver is a 15-year veteran. Both are assigned to Troop B, Lake City.


August | Sergeant Mark Wysocky and Trooper Lisa Drake

Sergeant Mark G. Wysocky and Trooper Lisa S. Drake have been selected as co-recipients of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for their actions on August 11, 1996, in which they risked their lives to save a motorist trapped in a vehicle submerged in water.

On August 11, 1996, Sergeant Wysocky and Trooper Drake observed a vehicle traveling south on Weston Road at a high rate of speed. Trooper Drake activated her emergency equipment in an attempt to stop the violator.

The violator’s vehicle slowed slightly, and suddenly left the roadway and onto the shoulder, while still traveling at a high rate of speed. After leaving the roadway, the driver lost control of the vehicle and traveled into a lake.

With little time to spare, Trooper Drake and Sergeant Wysocky entered the lake in an attempt to rescue the driver before the vehicle became submerged. During the rescue attempt, Trooper Drake’s foot became entrapped in the door of the vehicle as it sank. As the vehicle sank, it overturned and drug Trooper Drake down and under the vehicle as it rolled.

The driver’s window had been broken before the vehicle submerged, thus allowing the driver an avenue to escape before the vehicle overturned. Trooper Drake was freed from the vehicle when the driver’s door cut off the end of her shoe, just before coming to rest on its top in over 35 feet of water.

The violator was arrested for DUI, and a breath test later revealed a blood alcohol level of .30%.

Sergeant Wysocky is a 15-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol. Trooper Drake is a 9-year veteran. Both are assigned to Troop L, Davie.


September | Trooper Otto Bottin, III

Trooper Otto H. Bottin, III, has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for his actions on September 7 and September 28, 1996, which resulted in two significant cash seizures.

On September 7, 1996, Trooper Bottin stopped a traffic violator for unlawful speed on Interstate 95 in Duval County. Routine questions in association with the traffic stop led to suspicions which caused him to run wanted and criminal history checks. These computer checks revealed an extensive arrest record involving cocaine. A consent to search the vehicle was obtained and with the assistance of Trooper Richard Blanco, $54,370.00 in U.S. currency was located and seized. The money was found in the trunk, wrapped in bundles with duct tape and hidden in some speakers.

On September 28, 1996, Trooper Bottin stopped a violator for speeding on Interstate 95 in St. Johns County. Suspicions again led to a consent to search being obtained. Trooper Bottin used canine “Blossom” to inspect the vehicle which was pulling a U-Haul trailer. The dog alerted on the rear trunk area of the vehicle. A subsequent search of the vehicle and trailer resulted in locating $401,700.00 in U.S. currency that had been bundled with rubber bands and hidden among numerous personal items.

Trooper Bottin’s attentiveness to duty and thorough police work resulted in the seizures of this large amount of cash which no doubt were associated with the sale or purchase of contraband.

Trooper Bottin is an 18-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop G, Jacksonville.


October | Trooper Norman Frye

Trooper Norman R. Frye has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award based on his observant investigative techniques which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of evidence being seized and several subjects being arrested.

On October 31, 1996, Trooper Frye checked in to service for the day shift and immediately received a Lojack signal. He followed the signal to a residential development and located a Lojack equipped stolen Lexus LS400. During his investigation, Trooper Frye noticed that the damage to the stolen Lexus was identical to another vehicle parked next to it. After checking further, he found that the second vehicle was also stolen. Subsequent investigation of all the vehicles in the parking lot revealed a total of twelve (12) stolen motor vehicles, one (1) stolen trailer, and two (2) stolen personal watercrafts. Their total estimated value was approximately $300,000.

A search warrant for the residence of one of the subjects, identified as the perpetrator, was obtained by the FHP Investigations Section. As a result, chop shop items and a small amount of cocaine and marijuana were found and the contents of the residence seized as evidence. One of the items seized was a sophisticated computer, computer scanner, and a laser color printer, which had the capability of manufacturing temporary registrations, temporary tags, traveler’s checks, and vehicle identification number plates.

Trooper Frye is an 11-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop K, Miami.


November | Trooper Frank Yodonis

Trooper Frank C. Yodonis has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for November 1996, based on his actions which resulted in the rescue of a female carjacking victim.

On November 11, 1996, at 8:00 p.m., Trooper Yodonis observed a vehicle eastbound on Cypress Gardens Boulevard, in Polk County, driving without headlights. As Trooper Yodonis turned around on the vehicle, it pulled over onto the north shoulder.

As Trooper Yodonis exited his patrol vehicle and approached the 1996 Honda from behind, the passenger, Rubian Melendez, was standing by the passenger door. Trooper Yodonis asked the driver, Cindy Sanchez, if everything was all right because she appeared to be upset. Melendez told Trooper Yodonis that everything was okay, that they had just had a misunderstanding.

At that time, Ms. Sanchez screamed that he had a gun. Melendez pulled out a .38 caliber revolver and pointed it at Trooper Yodonis. Trooper Yodonis grabbed Melendez in a bear hug while successfully disarming him.

Further investigation revealed that Ms. Sanchez was a victim of an armed carjacking that the Polk County Sheriff’s Office was investigating. Melendez was turned over to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office where he was charged with Armed Carjacking, Armed Robbery, False Imprisonment, Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer, and Resisting Arrest with Violence.

Trooper Yodonis was treated at the Winter Haven Hospital for human bite wounds to the left wrist and hand. He is commended for his bravery, professionalism, and dedication to duty which resulted in the arrest of Melendez.

Trooper Yodonis is a 17-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop C, Lake Wales.


December | Trooper James M. Raymond

Trooper James M. Raymond has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for December, 1996, based on his actions which resulted in the rescue of an individual who had fallen into a cattle crossing.

On December 27, 1996, while on routine patrol at approximately 9:30 p.m., Trooper Raymond stopped to help a disabled vehicle at the 215 milepost. The vehicle was occupied by a woman and her two children. The woman advised Trooper Raymond that her husband had left on foot for help towards the Canoe Creek Service Plaza. After calling a tow truck, Raymond proceeded north on the Turnpike to see if he could locate the missing man. He also checked with Canoe Creek Service Plaza to see if the man had arrived seeking help. They advised he had not. Trooper Raymond drove to the 222 milepost, failing to locate the driver. Assuming the man had been picked up and was still enroute to the service plaza, Raymond proceeded back south.

Later on Trooper Raymond contacted the service plaza to see if the man had arrived there. They advised he had still not arrived. Thinking the man may have been struck by a vehicle, Raymond began to search the shoulder of the road to see if he could locate any evidence of the man being struck. Failing to locate anything, he then remembered a similar incident at the 215.4 mile marker in which a patron fell into a cattle crossing. At this time Trooper Marcella contacted Trooper Raymond to advise him the man had still not arrived at the service plaza. Thinking maybe the man had gone to the Avis Rent-A-Car office, Trooper Marcella contacted them. They advised he had not arrived there.

Trooper Raymond returned to the area of the 215.4 milepost where he knew a cattle crossing was located and heard a cry for help below. The man had stepped over the guardrail and fell into the cattle crossing approximately fifteen feet below. Trooper Raymond called for Rescue and the man was airlifted to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Brevard County with serious injuries. While waiting for Rescue to arrive, Trooper Raymond administered first aid until relieved by paramedics. Trooper Raymond then arranged for transportation through Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to meet him and transport the family to the hospital.

It is believed that Mr. Beele would not have made it out of the cattle crossing alive if Trooper Raymond had not found him as quickly as he did. Mr. Beele was already in shock which could have resulted in a tragedy.

Trooper Raymond is a 15-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop K, Kissimmee.


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