The suspect wanted to light himself on fire and kept burning himself with a cigarette. He had a butcher knife in his hand. Pasco deputies responded to the New Port Richey house on Feb. 28, after the man's girlfriend called 911. Deputy Craig Meissner pointed at the man and told him to drop the knife. The man refused and "placed the knife to his throat and began to scream that he wanted to die," authorities said. Meissner, 41, kept talking with him. He found out they were both fathers. Meissner spoke with him about how hard being a parent can be. "The man began to cry," authorities said. While the man was distracted by wiping his tears, Meissner grabbed the butcher knife and took it from him. The man was placed into involuntary mental health custody under the Baker Act. Meissner was honored last week with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office Lifesaving Award, one of several deputies and citizens recognized at the quarterly ceremony.
Other Lifesaving Award recipients were:
•Cpl. David Hink, 45, was inside a Sam's Club buying some supplies for an upcoming Boys and Girls Club event on March 7 when he saw a commotion in the food court. A woman was choking on a piece of pizza. He gave her the Heimlich Maneuver several times before the food was dislodged. "The woman stated later there was no doubt that Cpl. Hink saved her life," the Sheriff's Office says.
• Cpl. David Roque, 42, and Sascha Vanderwaall, 35, arrived at a house on Jan. 9 in Zephyrhills where a woman said her son was suicidal and she heard a gunshot from her son's bedroom. Unsure if the man was still armed and if he wanted to hurt others, Roque and Vanderwaall stood in a hallway and spoke with him. He refused to come out and sounded lethargic. The deputies kept the man talking while their supervisor, Sgt. Steven Greiner, 46, peeked into the room to see the suspect's condition. He had shot himself in the head. The deputies gave him medical attention while awaiting paramedics. He was taken to a hospital, but died five days later.
• On Nov. 5, 2010, Sgt. Jonathon McGuffin, 46, was at his Hudson home when he heard a car crash outside. He called dispatch and went to the scene. Betty-Jo Tagerson had driven her Jeep through a crowd of children playing on a lawn, hitting 5-year-old triplet Delaney Rossman, her sister, and a neighbor girl. McGuffin informed dispatch of the situation and performed CPR on Delaney, who died shortly after the crash. The Sheriff's Office said the length of time between the crash and the award was an oversight.
• Sgt. Robert Lowry, 44; Corporals Mark Bleser, 29, and Anthony Garguilo, 48; Deputies Carlos Rivera, 34, and Brandon Marchione, 20; registered nurse clinical supervisor Stephanie Erwin, 36 and nurses Holley Boudrot, 27, Elizabeth Kenjorski, 34, Rose Ngeren, 38, and Nicole Gilbo, 26, were honored for saving the life of an inmate who tried to hang himself with his bed sheet. They were able to untie the sheet and get the inmate breathing on his own again.
Special Recognition Award
• Lt. Laura Morello, 52, was honored for her dedicated work as a volunteer treasurer for the agency's Sunshine Fund, which gives savings bonds to new infants of members, flowers in memory of deceased members and their relatives and cards for hospitalized members and their families. Morello, a cancer survivor who also donates much of her time raising money for the American Cancer Society, works in the jail and has volunteered for the Sunshine Fund for 17 years.
School Crossing Guard of the Year Award
• Robert Johnson, 71, and Antonio Alves, 81, were honored for their service to the children of Schrader Elementary School.
Citizen's Service Awards
• Ed Jennings, an agricultural extension agent for Pasco County, was lauded for the instructional courses he's given deputies, who sometimes have to deal livestock on the lam.
• Olivia Georgi is 12 and can't remember a time when she wasn't trying to help people. She and her parents, Otto and Janet Georgia, were honored for her numerous and constant donations of toys, clothes and toiletries to the sheriff's child protective investigation unit.
• Assistant State Attorney Christopher Murray was commended for his work prosecuting drug dealers.
• Strategic Analyst Steve Hiebert, 55, was honored for his skills in using data to catch criminals.
• Detention Deputy Roy Castro, 39, was commended for his talent in calming violent inmates.
• Corporal Tim Brock, 42, was praised for his dogged work in clearing burglary cases in Holiday.
Meritorious Service Award for Accomplishment
• Deputy Charles Payton, 28, was lauded for his work as a road patrol deputy.
• Cpl. Jason Sarne, 33, and deputies Aaron Ziegler, 42, Manuel DeJesus, 42, Christopher Miller, 33, and Ryan Oakley, 27, were recognized for their work in copper and metal theft cases.
Meritorious Service Medal for Courage
• Cpl. Jesse Coker, 36, and deputy Raymond Williamson, 27, saved a husband and wife from a burning house in January. The woman refused to leave without her cat. Coker told her the cat had already escaped. The husband said the fire wasn't a big deal and had to be ordered to leave, the Sheriff's Office said.
• Detention deputy Norman Grant, 43, was commended for his dealings with an unruly inmate, who fought Grant after the deputy tried to punish him with two hours of solitary.
• Deputy Robert Miller, 55, was honored for an old wound he suffered in the line of duty back in 1982. He was arresting a man at a Dade City bar for DUI when another man fired three shots at him, the Sheriff's Office said. Miller, now a bailiff, was able to also subdue the shooter and requested backup. The K-9 unit arrived to control other hostile bar patrons. Unfortunately, in the melee, one of the dogs bit Miller in the wrist and forearm and he had to get treatment for blood poisoning, the agency said. At the time, Sheriff's Office did not give these awards. When Miller's supervisor heard about it, he nominated Miller this year.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.