Event salutes county officers

April 18, 2008|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

Sgt. Frederick von Briesen hugged Tracy Wheeler after she handed him the award honoring both his dedication to keeping the roads of Howard County safe and her husband's memory.

Smiles and tears flowed at the Howard County Police Awards Ceremony held Tuesday night at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. It was the first time the annual ceremony had been held since Cpl. Scott Wheeler was fatally struck by a car after he stepped onto a road to flag down a speeding car in June.

Von Briesen described the recognition as "bittersweet," adding that the Scott Wheeler Traffic Safety Award would never have been created if the accident had never occurred.

"I can remember every fatal collision I've been on since I've been in traffic," said von Briesen, who has worked as supervisor of the department's traffic division since 2000. "But Scott Wheeler sticks out as the most memorable."

Wheeler was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the department's highest award, and the Purple Heart, which recognizes personal sacrifice. Tracy Wheeler accepted the awards on her husband's behalf.

Cpl. Wheeler's parents, Janet and Fred Wheeler, and his brother, Michael, were among the ceremony's roughly 200 attendees.

"I'm very proud of Scott," Janet Wheeler said after the ceremony. "Even though it hurts, we're very proud and very honored of what Howard County has done."

Pfc. Jason Eskra was named Police Officer of the Year for his service last year. The Pittsburgh native has been with the department for four years, working the midnight shift in Elkridge, and was chosen out of more than 400 officers.

Eskra, 27, said he realized that he wanted to become a police officer after doing a ride-along during an college internship with the Pittsburgh Police Department.

"I enjoy the job," he said. "I enjoy the satisfaction of the job. I love the people I work with. We gel together. ... I'd like to think I change things that go on in Elkridge."

Eskra is the first person in his family to work in law enforcement, he said. He was also the department's Police Officer of the Month in May and was selected as his platoon's Officer of the Month seven times.

"Obviously, this year Jason stood out head and shoulders above every other officer in the department," said Capt. Lee Lachman, chairman of the commendations board, which chose the award winners. "To quote his supervisor, `He's a cop's cop.'

"When he goes to work, he works the entire night. He is one of, if not the most productive officer when compared to others."

Others recognized were Dr. Daniel Tang, a civilian who was the first person to give medical aid to Wheeler after he was struck, Auxiliary Officer Petrus "Pieter" Lucas, who has volunteered more than 1,000 hours with the department despite a 2005 on-duty accident that led to the loss of one of his legs, and Pfc. Mark Heron, who made the most drunken driving arrests last year.

Von Briesen, 52, has spent nearly 28 years with the department, starting his career as a patrol officer. While working in patrol, he took a series of classes to learn how to reconstruct collisions.

"I enjoy the investigation part the most," von Briesen said. "That was my main interest going into traffic safety from the start.

"We try to go through the entire mechanics of what took place -- the whole gamut of possibilities."

The department plans to recognize a leader in traffic safety each year with the Scott Wheeler Traffic Safety Award. Von Briesen was the ideal candidate for the first, said Sherry Llewellyn, spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department.

"Fred has a passion for traffic safety that's evident to everyone who works with him," Llewellyn said. "When this award was created, Fred was the first one everyone thought of. He was our obvious choice and is truly committed to trying to make our roads safer."

After the ceremony, Michael Wheeler, who called his brother "my best friend," said he is glad that officers like von Briesen continue -- as his brother had -- to work hard to improve road safety in Howard.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

award winners

Here are the winners of the police department's awards handed out Tuesday. Other awards included unit citations, commendation certificates, top DUI/DWI enforcers, citizens' awards, auxiliary service hours, lifesaving awards, bronze star commendations and certificates of merit.

Explorer: Michael McChesney

Auxiliary: Auxiliary Officer Petrus "Pieter" Lucas

Animal Control Volunteer: Frances Rea

Telecommunicator: Dispatcher Kristin Harvey

First-Year Service: Officer Zachary Cerrone

Outstanding Community Service: Sgt. Eric Kruhm

Civilian Employee: Janet Saunders

Police Officer: Pfc. Jason Eskra

Purple Heart/Medal of Honor: Cpl. Scott Wheeler

Traffic Safety: Sgt. Frederick von Briesen

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