TEMECULA: Riverside County officers honored for service

Ken Nelson, Marie Fritts, and Nola Tainter, stand with CHP Officer Bryce Murrill, and Ranger as they are awarded the “Distinguished K9 team’ during the Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee annual awards dinner, at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula Thursday April. 18, 2013.

Four dozen law enforcement officers from across western Riverside County were honored for distinguished police work Thursday, April 18, at the 35th annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee awards dinner, held this year at the Pechanga Resort & Casino.

The committee, known as LEAC, was established in 1978 by Riverside resident Rick Fritts — who died in 1999 — and his wife, Marie, to recognize the service of local officers. It is made up of business, community and law enforcement representatives.

Presenting the awards, LEAC Chairman Ken Nelson and Chairwoman-Elect Nola Tainter shared stories of top-notch investigative work, bravery in the line of duty and commitment to community service.

Nelson said it was an honor to stand on the stage with “our everyday heroes” who risk their lives for the safety of the community.

The Press-Enterprise is a corporate sponsor of LEAC and Nelson is a senior vice president with the company.

Fourteen officers received awards for excellence in community service and 18 for investigative excellence.

Receiving lifetime achievement awards were Officer Joe Sandoval of the California Highway Patrol Temecula-area office, Lt. Shawn Dredla, who is retired from the Corona Police Department, Officer Frank LaVigne of the Murrieta Police Department and Lead Investigator Dennis Wenker of the sheriff’s Southwest Station.

Several officers were recognized this year in the category of valor.

Officer Dane Norem, of the California Highway Patrol Riverside office, was stabbed nine times, including in the eye, with a utility knife, by a suicidal man he was trying to prevent from jumping off the La Sierra overpass on Highway 91 on Oct. 25. Despite his injuries, Norem continued to hold onto the man’s leg until help arrived to take the man into custody.

Deputy Andrew Mata, of the sheriff’s Lake Elsinore Station, rescued several people and suffered smoke inhalation during a trailer fire off Taylor Road in the unincorporated Good Hope area in June. Mata ran into a smoke-filled trailer to look for victims, then guided others, including children and an elderly couple, to safety away from the thick smoke and fire.

Sgt. Andrew Elia and Cpl. Daniel Sasser, of the sheriff’s Jurupa Valley Station, in August rescued an unconscious man from a burning garage. The deputies were nearly trapped by burning drywall while trying to pull the man to safety. Both deputies suffered smoke inhalation.

Cpl. Jason Waldon, of the Corona Police Department, on Aug. 20 captured a suspect in a fatal triple stabbing in Riverside who was reported walking on Highway 91 near Main Street covered in blood and carrying a knife. Waldon saw the man try unsuccessfully to carjack someone, then chased after him with the help of other officers. Waldon shot the man with his patrol rifle, preventing him from escaping. The man is now charged with murder in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her two children.

Corona K-9 Officer Jeff Glenn and Cpl. Jason Viefhaus were recognized for their work on a July 19 domestic violence call. Glenn was shot at while pursuing a suspect at Corona West Mobile Home Park and Viefhaus came to his aid. Viefhaus drove his car toward the armed man to prevent him from harming Glenn then fatally shot the man.

Officers Susana Barron and Timothy McGinnis of the Hemet Police Department fatally shot a man July 31 who was being pursued by another agency on suspicion of a carjacking and a drive-by shooting. When Barron and McGinnis confronted the man, he pulled a gun on them and they opened fire.

Deputy Kevin Dixon, of the sheriff’s Moreno Valley Station, shot a man in July who was holding a knife to the neck of an 11-month-old baby. The man had seriously injured his young son’s neck and refused to put the child down. Dixon shot the man in the only part of his body not shielded by the baby. Both the father and the child survived. The father is now serving a prison sentence.

Sgt. Mark Keyser, of the Beaumont Police Department, was recognized for his work during a Dec. 10 standoff with a suicidal man armed with a gun who was threatening family members and shot a CHP dog. Keyser was involved in a three-hour negotiation with the man who, in the end, was fatally shot but was prevented from harming his family.

Ranger, the dog involved in that incident, was shot repeatedly but returned to work in January, minus a toe. He also was recognized at Thursday’s ceremony — as “distinguished dog.” Marie Fritts presented the “Rick and Marie Fritts Distinguished K-9 Award” to Ranger and his handler, Officer Bryce Murrill of the CHP San Gorgonio-area office.