On Jan. 21, Cyndee Stoner heard about a 7-month-old boy who was in danger. Stoner, 29, is a child protective investigator with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. When she went to the mother's address, she and the child weren't there.
Stoner didn't give up. She called the mother's associates, drove through neighborhoods where the woman hung out, went to stores where she panhandled with her son, visited the parents, friends, neighbors.
Finally, on Feb. 3, Stoner found them at a Walmart. The woman was there asking employees to take her baby. Stoner took the child — dirty from head to toe, soaked with urine — to a hospital where doctors said the boy was grossly emaciated, suffering from uncontrolled seizures and vision problems. He tested positive for cocaine.
Since then, he's gained two pounds and will be placed with a foster family.
Stoner was one of many recognized at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office quarterly awards ceremony this week. Stoner, who was hired last July, was given the Meritorious Service Medal for Accomplishment.
Meritorious Service Medal for Courage — On Jan. 1, Deputy Bryan Sikes, 37, got to the scene of a fire in Land O'Lakes before the firefighters. With smoke pouring from the rear of the home, Sikes went in and rescued the only person inside the house. Then, Sikes tried to fight the fire with his agency-issued extinguisher and when that ran out, he grabbed a water hose. Sikes was commended for preventing "the house from completely igniting and spreading to other homes in the neighborhood," a Sheriff's Office release states.
Meritorious Service Award for Accomplishment — Robert Gilbert, 56, inventory coordinator who automated their system.
Special Recognition Certificate — Catherine Ciago, a nurse working at the jail who saved a deputy from an attacking inmate on March 15 and Deputies Alan Derouin, 45; Jeffrey Frazier, 27; and Ashley French, 25, who were praised for improving the jail's laundry system.
Citizen's Service Awards — John Walton, 50, who pulled his 71-year-old New Port Richey neighbor out of her burning home on March 9 and Cheryl Cannon, a 27-year-old pharmacist at Winn-Dixie in Hudson who chased a thief who stole oxycodone on Jan. 13. Her pursuit helped deputies catch him.
Incentive Awards — Maritza Gutierrez, 54, a latent print examiner whose work helped nab two minors involved in more than 100 auto burglaries. Deputy Matthew Aulicino, 38, is a disciplinary hearing officer lauded for "handling complaints fairly and equitably." Corporal David Hink, 43, has worked for the agency for nearly 22 years and is now known as Officer Friendly in Lacoochee — a federally funded position allowing deputies to mentor youth and to work with the community to reduce crime. Hink was highlighted for his dedication — creating a community project website, coordinating an anti-drug rally and renovating the area's community center.
Lifesaving Award — On Jan. 14, Corporals Michael Molnar, 36, Ronald Gardner, 47, and Deputies Garth Johnston, 38, and Darren Nicholson, 50, saved an inmate who tried to hang himself. Deputies Christopher Wieck, 32, and Natalie Kelly, 31, were also awarded for saving a suicidal inmate March 24.
Another inmate nearly died from an overdose on prescription drugs he obtained "on a furlough outside the jail" and these employees saved him — Deputies Steven Stewart, 51; Roy Castro, 37; William Gay, 21; RN supervisor Mary Komer, 42; and LPN Giovani Gomez, 32.
On Feb. 2, Corporal Russell Meissner, 34, and Deputy Eric Biddle, 29, saved a man in Hudson who tried to hang and shoot himself. On Jan. 23, Deputies Sascha Vanderwaall, 33, David Riffe, 39, and Russell Knieriem, 38, saved a man in New Port Richey armed with a razor and a cord wrapped around his neck.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.