Member Recognition

2000 Troopers of the Month

January | Trooper Ricky Neal

Trooper Ricky Neal has been selected as the recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for January 2000, based on his lifesaving actions at the scene of a traffic crash.

On January 1, 2000, at 2:32 a.m., Trooper Neal was dispatched to a traffic crash at the 60 milepost on Florida’s Turnpike. Trooper Neal arrived on the scene six minutes after receiving the call, and found the driver of the vehicle had been ejected and was lying in a drainage ditch that contained approximately 18 inches of water. Neal observed the victim laying on his back unconscious, with his mouth and nose below the water’s surface.

Trooper Neal quickly waded into the ditch and held the victim’s head above the water, then positioned his head on some weeds so that he could check the vehicle, which was at the water’s edge, for any other occupants. Finding none, Neal returned to the victim and held his head above the water until rescue personnel arrived several minutes later.

Trooper Neal’s rapid response to the scene and quick assistance to the victim prevented him from drowning in the ditch.

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

February | Trooper Mark Stickel

Trooper Mark G. Stickel has been selected as the recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for February 2000, based on his assistance during the capture of an individual who had shot two Orlando police officers.

On February 3, 2000, shortly after midnight, an assailant shot two Orlando police officers on John Young Parkway in Orlando during a traffic stop. One officer was killed and the other was critically injured. There were two other people in the suspect’s car that were apprehended shortly after the shooting; however, the assailant managed to elude police.

Trooper Stickel was assigned to assist in the search of the killer and worked with an Orange County Sheriff canine deputy in canvassing the neighborhood for about seven hours. Trooper Stickel and the deputy were subsequently reassigned to an area north of Grant Street and west of Rio Grand Avenue. The two officers learned there was an abandoned house at the end of Grant Street. The house was locked up; however, there was a light on inside the dwelling. The two forced open the door and entered the house and conducted a room to room search. There was one door that was barricaded from the inside and it was subsequently forced open. It had been barricaded with a dresser and table. Trooper Stickel asked the deputy if he had checked the closet in the room and the deputy indicated that he had done so. Stickel however, decided to check the closet again and found the shooting suspect hiding in the closet. Stickel then took the assailant into custody and charged with 1st degree murder. The suspect still had a broken handcuff on his left wrist that was placed there by the Orlando police officer.

Trooper Stickel is to be commended for his decisive and professional police work and devotion to the law enforcement profession.

Trooper Stickel was a sixteen-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop D, Orlando. He retired from the FHP on March 24, 2000.

March | Trooper William Nowling

Corporal William E. Nowling has been selected as the recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for March 2000, based on his lifesaving effort performed on an individual who had gone into diabetic shock.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 15, 2000, Lieutenant Bruce W. Doras and Corporal Nowling were directing traffic on U.S. 27 at the entrance to the Kansas City Royals Spring Training Stadium in Baseball City, Polk County, Florida. At approximately 3:45 p.m., an elderly lady advised that there was a man (later identified as Richard Soucie) in a vehicle that had gone into diabetic shock. The Florida Highway Patrol Communications Center was immediately notified to send an ambulance.

Corporal Nowling tended to Mr. Soucie while Lieutenant Doras backed his vehicle off the road onto the grass. Corporal Nowling sprinted through traffic to a nearby Hardees Restaurant where he obtained a cup of orange juice and then made an attempt to have Mr. Soucie drink some of it. At this time, Corporal Nowling found Mr. Soucie’s heart had stopped. Corporal Nowling then ran to his patrol car to obtain his breathing mask and called out to Lieutenant Doras (who was trying to clear traffic from the congested intersection) for assistance.

Corporal Nowling and Lieutenant Doras removed Mr. Soucie from the vehicle and placed him on the grass, at which time Corporal Nowling immediately began CPR. There was a nurse who volunteered to assist Corporal Nowling with two-person CPR which they tediously performed in the hot sun for fifteen minutes, until EMS arrived and took over. Lieutenant Doras remained in the four lane divided highway intersection directing emergency vehicles in and out.

Corporal Nowling assisted EMS personnel with getting Mr. Soucie into the ambulance. Although resuscitation efforts were successful at the scene, unfortunately Mr. Soucie passed away at Heart of Florida Hospital later that afternoon.

Corporal Nowling is a twenty-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop C, Lakeland.

April | Trooper Marvin Wagner, Jr.

Trooper Marvin G. Wagner, Jr. has been selected as the recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for April 2000, based on his actions during three separate incidents during the month of April 2000.

On Friday, April 21, 2000, Trooper Wagner, while working FDOT Hireback on Interstate 10 in Holmes County, observed a truck tractor traveling eastbound, pulling a tanker trailer. The tanker’s rear tandem wheel was on fire. Trooper Wagner immediately pursued the truck and stopped the vehicle near the State Road 79 interchange. Trooper Wagner tried to extinguish the fire, with the fire extinguisher from his patrol vehicle, but was unsuccessful. When advised that the tanker was loaded with 78,000 gallons of jet fuel, and after calling for assistance from the Bonifay Fire Department, Trooper Wagner re-routed eastbound traffic on Interstate 10 due to the threat of an explosion. The Bonifay Fire Department arrived and extinguished the fire, which caused extensive damage to the tanker, before the tanker exploded and traffic was returned to it’s normal pattern. By being observant, and without regard for his personal safety, Trooper Wagner prevented a certain disaster.

On Monday, April 24, 2000, while on patrol with K-9 Alfred, Trooper Wagner stopped with what he thought was a disabled vehicle on State Road 79. As he was approaching the vehicle, Wagner observed the apparent driver inside the vehicle slashing at his neck with a broken whiskey bottle. The subject, who was bleeding profusely and covered with blood, was subdued after a brief struggle with Trooper Wagner. The subject was transported to Northwest Florida Hospital in critical condition as a result of the self-inflicted cuts to his neck and loss of blood. Assisted by Troopers Chris R. Ellis, Christopher A. McAdams, and the Washington County Sheriffs Department, Trooper Wagner then discovered a dead female passenger in the right front seat of the vehicle. The Washington County Sheriffs Department is handling the investigation into the possible murder of the female.

On Thursday, April 27, 2000, the Washington County Sheriffs Department requested the assistance of Trooper Wagner and K-9 Alfred to assist in a manhunt. Upon arriving at a private residence, Trooper Wagner was told that two people had broken into the residence and stole several firearms. Trooper Wagner, along with his felony team partner Trooper Chris R. Ellis, took K-9 Alfred and tracked the two suspects for approximately 2 miles before coming in contact with them. Troopers Wagner and Ellis and K-9 Alfred apprehended the two suspects without incident. The Washington County Sheriffs Department, who was conducting the investigation, later identified the two suspects as juveniles.

Trooper Wagner is an eighteen-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop A, Chipley.

May | Sergeant Morris Dunn, Trooper James Taylor, Jr. and Trooper Harry  Weaver, Jr.

Sergeant Morris R. Dunn, Trooper James R. Taylor, Jr., and Trooper Harry K. Weaver, Jr. have been selected as recipients of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for May 2000, based on their actions during an incident involving an abduction and sexual assault.

On Tuesday May 16, 2000, Sergeant Dunn responded to a disabled vehicle and encountered a youth. The youth asked Sergeant Dunn if he was going to be incarcerated. This being an odd question, Sergeant Dunn inquired further and discovered that the young man had been abducted and sexually assaulted.

Sergeant Dunn requested assistance from Trooper Taylor who located the perpetrator and took him into an investigative detention. Trooper Weaver responded to the scene for assistance. After transporting the youth and the suspect to Troop B Headquarters in Lake City, a confession was obtained and multiple felony charges were filed.

These men are to be commended for their professionalism. Their actions were consistent with the highest standards of law enforcement.

Sergeant Dunn is a 27-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop B, Lake City; Trooper Taylor is a 6-year veteran, also assigned to Troop B, Lake City; and Trooper Weaver is a 9-year veteran of the FHP assigned to Troop B, Jasper.

June | Trooper Tyra Keplinger

Trooper Tyra L. Keplinger has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for June 2000, based on her actions involving the arrest of an armed robbery and aggravated battery suspect.

On June 28, 2000, Trooper Keplinger had just arrested a subject pursuant to a crash investigation and was transporting him to the Duval County Jail when she rolled up on the scene of a potentially deadly crime in progress. She observed two subjects in the roadway, one of which was cutting the other about his hands and body with a box cutter (razor knife). As Trooper Keplinger approached the scene, she exited her patrol car and confronted the attacker without hesitation.

Trooper Keplinger drew her service weapon for protection and ordered the subject to drop his knife. The subject complied with the command by dropping his knife; however, he took evasive action by running around the front of Trooper Keplinger’s patrol car. Trooper Keplinger proceeded around the rear of her patrol car and confronted the subject a second time and ordered him to the ground. The subject again complied by lying in a prone position on the ground. Trooper Keplinger held the subject at bay until several deputies arrived and took him into custody. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office subsequently charged the subject with armed robbery with a deadly weapon and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Trooper Keplinger’s quick thinking and courage prevented a potentially deadly crime from being carried out and enabled the immediate capture of the perpetrator, while maintaining the security of the prisoner that she already had in custody.

Trooper Keplinger, a 2-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol, is assigned to Troop G, Jacksonville.

July | Trooper Jorge Rodriguez

Trooper Jorge Rodriguez has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for July 2000, based on his lifesaving actions at the scene of a traffic crash.

On July 16, 2000, at 12:30 a.m., Trooper Rodriguez was patrolling northbound on State Road 821 at the 35 milepost in Miami Dade County. Trooper Rodriguez observed a pickup truck drive off of the roadway onto the grass shoulder and into an adjacent canal. The vehicle began to sink and it was apparent to Trooper Rodriguez that the driver was not able to exit the vehicle. Rodriguez activated his vehicle’s blue lights, took off his gunbelt, and jumped onto the bed of the slowly sinking vehicle. After several attempts, Trooper Rodriguez was able to pull the sole occupant out through the driver’s window just as the vehicle became completely submerged in the deep canal. Trooper Rodriguez and the driver then swam to safety. Off-duty Trooper Eduardo Santos (from Troop E) stopped and helped both men from the water. Fire Rescue responded and Trooper Rodriguez and the driver were determined to be uninjured. The driver was later arrested for DUI.

Trooper Rodriguez’ decisiveness and quick response undoubtedly were instrumental in saving the life of the driver.

Trooper Rodriguez is a 3-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop K, Miami.

August | Trooper Mark Kozma and Trooper Ernest Burrs

Troopers Mark Kozma and Ernest Burrs have been selected as co-recipients of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for August 2000, based on their actions at the scene of a traffic crash.

On August 29, 2000, Trooper Kozma was dispatched to a possible drunk driver call. The caller then advised the vehicle he was following had been involved in a single vehicle crash, striking a sign post on Interstate 95 north of the Military Trail exit ramp. Trooper Kozma responded to the scene within minutes and observed an unconscious driver. The vehicle started to catch on fire with smoke coming from the engine compartment. Kozma immediately had Fire Rescue notified and attempted to remove the driver from the vehicle. Trooper Burrs then arrived at the scene and began to use his fire extinguisher to keep the vehicle fire from spreading to the occupant compartment. Trooper Kozma was unable to remove the driver due to the vehicle damage; however, the fire was contained until Fire Rescue arrived and extinguished it. The driver was then removed, unharmed by the fire. However, he eventually died from the injuries sustained in the crash.

During this incident, Trooper Burrs inhaled some of the chemicals from his fire extinguisher, requiring him to seek treatment from Fire Rescue at the scene.

Trooper Kozma, a 16-year veteran, and Trooper Burrs, a 10-year veteran, are both assigned to Troop L, West Palm Beach.

September | Trooper Michael Dearing

Trooper Michael W. Dearing has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for September 2000, based on a lifesaving act that he performed on an infant.

On August 26, 2000, while off-duty, Trooper Dearing was on a fishing trip with his family at Steinhatchee, Florida. At approximately 9:30 a.m., Trooper Dearing was walking to the dock to board a fishing boat. A hysteric woman nearby began hollering and asking if anyone knew CPR. Dearing immediately indicated that he did and she approached him, putting her baby in his arms.

The child was not breathing and was turning blue due to lack of oxygen. Trooper Dearing quickly performed the Heimlich maneuver by thrusting two fingers to the abdomen area in order to dislodge anything that was blocking the airway. His efforts were successful and the child began breathing again. Trooper Dearing returned the child to a grateful mother who thanked him for his efforts.

Trooper Dearing’s decisiveness and quick response undoubtedly were instrumental in saving the life of this small child.

Trooper Dearing is a 21-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop G, Jacksonville.

October | Trooper Michael Merritt

Trooper Michael L. Merritt has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for October 2000, based on his heroic actions at the scene of a traffic crash.

On October 5, 2000, Trooper Merritt responded to a traffic crash on Interstate 75 at the Daniels Road overpass south of Fort Myers in Lee County. When Merritt arrived at the scene, he found that two trucks had collided and that one of the trucks was carrying hazardous materials. There was a large cloud of smoke emitting from the truck. Traffic was completely blocked southbound and the smoke was drifting toward the stranded motorists. Trooper Merritt immediately began to evacuate the motorists to a point of safety. One of the stranded vehicles was a fully loaded school bus. Trooper Merritt was able to remove all of the children from the bus and direct them to a point of safety. During his efforts, Trooper Merritt did breath some of the toxic smoke and was transported to a local hospital where he was treated and released. Because of his actions, no one else required medical attention.

Trooper Merritt is a 3-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop F, Ft. Myers.

November | Trooper Thomas Brazauskas

Trooper Thomas A. Brazauskas has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for November 2000, based on his actions which prevented an individual from attempting suicide.

On November 16, 2000, while working the Suicide Deterrent Detail for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Trooper Brazauskas received a call reference a white male sitting on the wall in the southbound lanes at the top of the bridge. Trooper Brazauskas responded to the call and upon arrival found a male approximately 35 years of age sitting on the wall with one leg over the side. Trooper Brazauskas began speaking with the subject and discovered his name was “Anthony Roman”. Mr. Roman was distressed over problems with his home life and indicated that he wanted to end it all. After approximately a 90-minute discussion about his family, Brazauskas was able to persuade Mr. Roman that he would not be arrested, but instead, be placed under the “Baker Act” and receive treatment to help him cope with his family situation.

Mr. Roman was then placed under the “Baker Act” and transported to St. Anthony’s Hospital. His vehicle was safely secured through the cooperation of AAA Motor Club.

Assisting Trooper Brazauskas with this call was Trooper William Jarvis and Trooper Eileen Wells.

Trooper Brazauskas is a 29-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop C, Clearwater.

December | Trooper Charles Porter

Trooper Charles Porter has been selected as recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Month award for December 2000, based on his actions at the scene of a fatal traffic crash.

On December 20, 2000, Trooper Porter witnessed a fatal traffic crash on State Road 46 at Longwood-Markham Road in Seminole County in which a 39-year-old woman was killed after the car she was driving crashed into a tree. Her two unrestrained sons, ages 9 and 11, were in the car with her and were critically injured during the violent crash. Both children were screaming for their mother and obviously were going into shock as a result of the trauma.

Trooper Porter forcibly entered the rear door of the car to gain access to the injured children and began administering first aid. Porter also covered them with blankets to protect them from the sub-freezing temperatures and to prevent further shock. He remained inside the wreckage to keep the children calm and reassured while waiting on rescue personnel to arrive on the scene.

Trooper Porter is commended for his quick and professional response during this tragic event. He is a 6-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol assigned to Troop D, Sanford.