Division of Criminal Justice Services

For Immediate Release: 7/14/2016

State of New York | Executive Chamber
Andrew M. Cuomo | Governor

GOVERNOR CUOMO ANNOUNCES NEW YORK STATE POLICE OFFICERS OF THE YEAR

Trooper Atkinson and Trooper Gurdo Honored For Their Heroic Rescue of 14-Year-Old-Girl

Governor Recognizes a Dozen Other Officers with Certificate of Exceptional Valor

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that Trooper Donald L. Atkinson and Trooper Lawrence F. Gurdo II are the recipients of the New York State Police Officer of the Year Award. The troopers were recognized for helping rescue a 14-year-old girl from the waters of the Whitney Point Reservoir in Broome County last summer. Both men braved cold water and an extremely strong undercurrent to pull the teen to safety from reservoir dam, near the mouth of a quarter-mile-long intake tunnel.

POYA photo

From left to right: Trooper Lawrence F. Gurdo II, Trooper Donald L. Atkinson, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, DCJS Executive Deputy Commisioner Michael C. Green, New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II.

“Troopers Atkinson and Gurdo epitomized bravery and professionalism in their actions, which saved a young girl from imminent danger." Governor Cuomo said. “On behalf of all New Yorkers, I honor them for their heroism and for exemplifying the very best of New York’s law enforcement community.”

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul joined with Michael C. Green, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Division of Criminal Justice Services and State Police Superintendent George Beach to present the award to Troopers Atkinson and Gurdo on Governor Cuomo’s behalf. Over 50 people attended the award ceremony at Whitney Point Middle School, including family members of the two troopers and law enforcement colleagues from throughout Broome County.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said, "Police officers are role models in their communities and they make our neighborhoods safer. Today, we commend the heroic acts of two New York State Troopers who put their own lives at risk to save another. Because of the actions taken by Trooper Donald Atkinson and Trooper Lawrence Gurdo, a young teenage girl can now lead a full life."

At around 8 p.m. on July 15, 2015, Trooper Atkinson initially responded to a report of a distressed swimmer in an area of restricted water near the Whitney Point Reservoir Dam in Dorchester Park. Upon arriving, he learned that the girl had been pulled into one of the dam’s intake tunnels, an area where water rushes by at 1,400 cubic feet per second, a speed comparable to that of whitewater rafting rapids. Able to hear the girl yelling for help but unable to see her in the water, he swam to the area dam intake tunnels and began searching.

Trooper Gurdo arrived with a rope and handed it to a passerby to assist Trooper Atkinson as he battled a strong undercurrent to check each entryway. Trooper Gurdo then entered the water, boosting Trooper Atkinson onto a ledge above the intake entryway so that he could continue to search without getting pulled into the tunnels.

On the ledge, the Troopers spotted the girl about 15 feet away, barely keeping her head above water. They were able to reach the teen and pull her to safety on the ledge. A short time later, a fire department rescue boat arrived and brought all three individuals to shore.

State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II said, “Trooper Atkinson and Trooper Gurdo went above and beyond their normal duties last July, when they risked their own lives to save that of a 14-year-old girl who became trapped at the Whitney Point Dam. We commend them both for a job well done, and thank them both for their service to the people of New York State.”

The Division of Criminal Justice Services coordinates the work of the Police Officer of the Year Selection Committee, which reviews nominations submitted by New York State law enforcement agencies.

Division of Criminal Justice Services Executive Deputy Commissioner and Police Officer of the Year Selection Committee Chairman Michael C. Green said, “All of the nominations received by the committee exemplify what it means to serve and protect. The actions of these two troopers, however, stood out from the others. They went well beyond the call of duty to rescue a girl who most likely would have drowned had it not been for their swift action. I am pleased to recognize their heroic efforts on behalf of the committee.”

Trooper Donald L. Atkinson: Trooper Atkinson, who has been a member of the State Police for more than 15 years, is assigned to Troop C in Whitney Point. He is a field training officer, a certified emergency medical technician, and a certified instructor teaching radar at the State Police Academy. Raised in the Binghamton area, his first job in law enforcement was with the Broome County Sheriff’s Office.

Earlier this year, Trooper Atkinson was named the 2015 Trooper of the Year by the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Division of State and Provincial Police for his actions during the rescue. He was one of four nominees and represented the North Atlantic Region. Trooper Atkinson continues lives in the Binghamton area where he is an active member of the local volunteer fire department. He and his wife, Lisa, have three children.

Trooper Lawrence F. Gurdo II: Trooper Gurdo has been with the State Police for nearly three years and is now stationed with Troop D in Oneida. Raised in the Herkimer County village of Poland, he graduated from Niagara University and was subsequently commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his service in Iraq. Trooper Gurdo resides in the Marcy area with his fiancée Stephanie and continues to serve in the Army Reserves as a Captain.

The Police Officer of the Year Award was created in 1983 to recognize a single police officer, or team of officers, for an exceptional act of valor symbolizing the service of police in New York State. The award was first presented in 1984.

A complete list of past recipients can be found here: http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/ops/poya/recipientspast.htm.

Since the award’s inception, 110 officers from 17 agencies across the state have received it. Of those police, 69 have been honored posthumously, including 23 officers from the New York City Police Department and 37 members of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey Police Department killed during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

A dozen other officers were nominated for the award. These officers will each receive a Certificate of Exceptional Valor from Governor Cuomo:
Nominees:

Sgt. Robert Sellick of the Beacon City Police Department (Dutchess County): On May 7, Sgt. Sellick, who was about to go off-duty, heard a call about a carjacking. After changing back into his uniform, he responded to the area where a foot pursuit had ensued. The suspect, armed with a large knife, ran out of the woods and past the sergeant’s car. Sgt. Sellick pursued the individual across four lanes of I-84. The suspect ran up an embankment and, when he was unable to proceed further, turned on the sergeant in an aggressive manner and refused verbal commands. Sgt. Sellick fired at the suspect, killing him. Based on an investigation by the Beacon Police Department, the suspect was planning to kill an acquaintance that lived nearby.

Sgt. Michael Garavelli of the Gloversville Police Department (Fulton County): On Oct. 13, Sgt. Garavelli was driving home from work when he observed a confrontation between two men, which he determined was a robbery. After threatening the victim with a conducted energy device, the suspect fled the scene. Sgt. Garavelli obtained a suspect description, called for assistance and initiated an investigation that ultimately resulted in the individual being arrested and convicted of robbery.

Officer Michael J. Cadek of the Elmira Heights Police Department and Sgt. Daniel West of the Horseheads Police Department (Chemung County): On Nov. 22, Officer Cadek confronted a man swinging two knives in the roadway and threatening to harm himself. The suspect approached Officer Cadek despite being ordered to drop the knives. Officer Cadek returned to his vehicle, called for assistance and was joined at the scene by Sgt. West. The subject made threatening gestures with the knives and then charged at Sgt. West. Officer Cadek then deployed his conducted energy device, striking the subject in the chest and shoulder. The subject fell and Sgt. West took him into custody.

Deputy Benjamin Pisa of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office: On July 16, Deputy Pisa responded to call involving a 20-year-old man who had slipped beneath a brush hog, which resulted in one of his legs being amputated and the other severely injured. Deputy Pisa replaced the makeshift belt tourniquets on the man’s legs with new emergency tourniquets, which stemmed his blood loss. Deputy Pisa stayed with the young man as an IV was established to help keep him conscious and assisted with getting him on a Mercy Flight so he could be transported to the hospital.

Officer James Egloff and Officer Ryan Weiss of the Irvington Police Department (Westchester County): On April 8, Officer Egloff – off-duty and unarmed – confronted a man with a knife at the Irvington Metro North Station who had already stabbed someone. Officer Egloff identified himself as a police officer and ordered the man to drop the knife. The man raised the knife above his head, prompting Officer Egloff to take a defensive stance. Officer Ryan Weiss arrived and ultimately subdued the man using a conducted energy device. The two officers took the man into custody and provided first aid to both the individual he had stabbed and the suspect, who had stabbed himself.

Deputy Joey L. Tortorella of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office: On April 17, Deputy Tortorella responded to a 9-1-1 hang-up call in the town of Wheatfield. Upon arriving, Deputy Tortorella talked with a man who was vague in his responses and heard a woman yell for help. The man quickly closed the door, left the house through a back door and exchanged gunfire with Deputy Tortorella, whose ballistic vest was struck by a bullet. As gunfire continued, Deputy Tortorella advised dispatchers to lock down the nearby Errick Road Elementary School for fear the subject would head toward the building. The man eventually went back inside the home and shot himself. In addition to shooting Deputy Tortorella, the man had shot both of his parents, who survived their serious injuries. Earlier this year, Deputy Tortorella was awarded the Presidential Medal of Valor for his actions.

Officer Christopher Canale of the New York City Police Department: On Oct. 8, Officer Canale was off-duty and traveling west on the Long Island Expressway when he observed a serious accident between a school bus and a tractor trailer. The school bus was engulfed in flames. Officer Canale pulled over and approached the bus. He immediately made contact with the driver, who was pinned inside. The driver informed him that an aide was in the back of the bus. Although the officer could not see the aide due to the smoke, he guided her out of the bus. He then extricated the pinned driver before any first responders arrived on scene.

Deputy James DeFilipps of the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office: On March 21, Deputy DeFilipps arrived at a motor vehicle crash involving a driver who had fled the scene of a domestic incident with a handgun. As the suspect was shooting at other responding officers, Deputy DeFilipps exited his vehicle with his patrol rifle and headed to a safe location in a wooded area across the street from the crash. As Deputy DeFilipps entered the woods, he was shot twice by the suspect, who was just 10 feet away. Although injured, Deputy DeFilipps held his ground, returning fire and killing the suspect.

Officer Joshua Comitale and Officer Chad Klein of the Troy Police Department (Rensselaer County): On Aug. 22, Officer Comitale responded to an attempted carjacking involving an armed suspect. Upon locating an individual who matched the description of the suspect, Officer Comitale exited his patrol vehicle and began following the suspect on foot, while awaiting Officer Klein’s arrival. As Officer Klein maneuvered his vehicle to block the suspect’s flight, the suspect shot Officer Klein in the left rear shoulder at point blank range. Officer Comitale immediately fired back, striking the suspect in the pelvic area, causing him to fall. The suspect and Officer Comitale continued to exchange gunfire. Officer Comitale was shot in both legs; the suspect was killed.

In addition to the Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner, the Police Officer of the Year Selection Committee is composed of the following members: the Superintendent of the New York State Police, Counsel and Executive Director of the State Sheriffs’ Association, Executive Director of the State Association of Chiefs of Police, President of the Police Conference of New York, President of the New York State Association of Police Benevolent Associations, and President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the City of New York.

The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov) is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including collection and analysis of statewide crime data, maintenance of criminal history information and fingerprint files, administrative oversight of the state’s DNA databank in partnership with the New York State Police, administration of federal and state criminal justice funds, support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state, and administration of the state’s Sex Offender Registry.

Additional news available at www.governor.ny.gov
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