In a new program introduced by Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema, officers are being recognized for acts of valor and dedication in the line of duty. The first of the award recipients have already been selected.
Marana police officers Hayden Mosher, William Dittiger, and Robert Derfus watched in horror as a northbound train approached at high speed near Cortaro Road and Interstate 10 on Feb. 7.
That’s because lying across the tracks was a 17-year-old male, ready for suicide.
Moments earlier, the mentally disturbed teenager had jumped out of his parents’ vehicle while en route to a psychological evaluation for anger issues. As he fled, his parents called the police.
Derfus, the first to respond to the area, quickly radioed for Mosher and additional units. Using night vision, Derfus located the teenager running along the center of the railroad tracks.
Derfus and Mosher gave chase to the teenager, who refused to acknowledge the officers’ orders to stop.
Then, the teenager did exactly
what the officers were hoping he wouldn’t do.
“He stops and falls to the ground and starts hugging the rail,” said Derfus. “We started trying to pull him, and he’s fighting. We’re thinking he is going to get run over.”
Though the train conductor had been notified, the locomotive’s high speed and slow braking ability meant little could be done to stop the train.
Mosher and Derfus continued to wrestle with the 200-plus-pound teenager, who screamed repeatedly, “Let me catch the train.”
“He knew what he wanted to do,” said Mosher.
As the two officers gained the upper hand, they dragged the teen away from the tracks, but not before his hand grabbed hold of the rail. The train approaching quickly, Mosher acted quickly.
“I punched his hand as hard as I could, and he let’s go. We pull him off, and not a couple seconds later the train comes by,” said Mosher.
By then, Dittiger had arrived, helping detain the still struggling teenager and placing him in handcuffs. Dittiger then transported the teen to the Crisis Response Center, where his parents were originally taking him.
“His parents were very thankful that we were able to get him there and get him the help he needed,” said Dittiger.
Despite their bravery, Mosher, Derfus, and Dittiger accepted their award with the humble dignity one might expect from those willing to put their lives on the line each day to provide public safety.
“It’s just your job,” said Derfus. “We basically thanked each other out there, we high-fived each other, and then it’s off to the next thing. We didn’t even expect this. It’s just part of what you have to do.”
Officers Ray Kennedy and John Pathammavong – Lifesaving Award
Officers Ray Kennedy and John Pathammavong happened to be in the right place at the right time when a call for domestic violence came through on Feb. 19.
Luckily for the woman who was being strangled by her husband, the officers arrived and took action in less than one minute.
“I get there first, I see the 911 caller, the daughter, she’s standing outside crying and distraught” said Pathammavong. “The door is wide open. I get out, thinking it’s going to be separated and done with.”
As Kennedy and Pathammavong entered the residence, it became clear that wasn’t the case.
“He (the husband) had his hand around her neck and he was really putting the pressure on. In fact, I could see her eyes rolling back. She was going to be gone real soon,” said Kennedy.
Despite the officers’ commands to cease, the man continued attacking his wife.
“He looked right at me,” said Pathammavong. “We said ‘Police. Let her go.’ He saw me and just ignored me and continued to squeeze harder.”
At that point, due to the confined space of the laundry room where the attack was occurring, Kennedy moved into a safe shooting position to avoid hitting the female victim.
Kennedy then took aim, gave the man a final warning, and fired. The taser connected, and the man released his wife and fell to the ground.
“She said if we hadn’t shown up on scene, she probably would have died,” said Pathammavong.
As with their lifesaving counterparts in Mosher, Dittiger, and Derfus, it was just another day on the job for Pathammavong and Kennedy, who say any responding officer would have done the same thing.
“I received (the award) thinking this is for everybody,” said Kennedy. “All of us officers work hard every night, and I swear an officer probably saves a life every night, whether he is just stopping a drunk driver or breaking up a quarrel.”
Kennedy continued to say he thinks the new award program will play an important role in the Marana Police Department.
“It’s really a great program that gives the officers pride to be with this department, and it makes the officers closer,” he said. “Not only that, but the department itself is recognized by the Town of Marana when the citizens realize the police are out there doing good things.”
Also recognized at the award banquet was Volunteer of the Year Lori Shepard, who assists with patrol activities and volunteer programs. Since joining the department’s Volunteers in Police Services Patrol Team, Shepard has volunteered 3,550 hours, saving the department $69,154.
Tom Mooney, a former detective in Rhode Island, was awarded with Civilian of the Year. Mooney has served as a mentor to Marana officers young and old with his vast knowledge of crime scenes, photography, and police work in general.