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Police officers to be honored for work in Inverness

They are two of Citrus County's most notorious crimes:

In 1996, it was the rolling gun battle through the county between law officers and a pair of armed robbers. In 1995, it was the gang rape of an unconscious mother in her home, in front of her children, by five perpetrators.

Both of the men accused in the armed robbery of a Publix grocery store in Beverly Hills are in federal custody, and one has pleaded guilty to federal charges. The two adults charged in the gang rape were sent to state prison; the three juveniles received lesser punishments.

Capturing the two armed robbery suspects proved dangerous for officers; putting together a case against the rapists proved difficult. Officers accomplished both.

Tonight, four Inverness police officers will be honored for those efforts at a meeting of the Inverness City Council.

"They have all performed with distinction," police Chief William Vitt said.

Investigator Lisa Wall was awarded the medal of merit, and Officers Darrin C. Burger, Jack J. Presti and Rodney Van Etten were all awarded the medal of valor by Vitt on March 12.

Tonight before the City Council, Vitt personally will recognize the efforts of each officer:

Wall was honored for pursuing a difficult and complex criminal investigation in the 1995 rape.

"She took that difficult investigation and developed it into a prosecutable case," Vitt said.

Vitt cited Wall's "diligence, knowledge and perseverance" in putting together a case strong enough to allow the state attorney's office tocharge all five suspects.

"In a case many would have been reluctant to take on," Vitt wrote on the commendation, "you personally made the justice system work effectively and all five defendants were found guilty."

Burger, Presti and Van Etten earned their medals by putting their lives in danger to apprehend the two armed robbery suspects without endangering the lives of others.

The two suspects led Citrus County sheriff's deputies on a chase from Beverly Hills to Inverness, leaving a hail of gunfire in their wake.

When the men entered the Inverness city limits, Burger, Presti and Van Etten joined the chase.

Vitt honored the three officers because "while you were barraged with bullets from the fleeing suspects you maintained a textbook perfect pursuit without returning fire in a populated area of the city."

Burger's cruiser took a bullet, disabling the car, but the officers still did not return fire.

The chase lasted 22 miles and ended in a neighborhood south of State Road 44 near County Road 581 when the suspects' car bogged down in a ditch. They were both captured.

"(The officers) did what they were supposed to," Vitt said. "They were very cool about it and didn't go in there blazing away and endangering lives in a residential area."