I was recently honored to attend the Cook County Sheriff's award program, which honored suburban police officers in Cook County for acts of heroism and awards of merit for service to the community.
The ceremony took place on Dec. 10 at Moraine Valley Community College. In attendance with me were Riverside Village President Ben Sells and Village Manager Peter Scelera. The 2013 recipient of the Cook County Sheriff's Award of Merit was Officer Mike Panek. Officer Panek was nominated for his exceptional attitude, attendance, work ethic and professionalism towards serving the residents of Riverside. Officer Panek is a United States Navy veteran and has been with the Riverside Police Department since 2011.
This year's recipients for the 2013 Valor Award were Sergeant Leo Kotor, Sergeant Frank Pontrelli, Officer Fabian Navarro, Officer John Cairo, Officer Dan Marrello and Communications Officer Sheryl Palermo. The Cook County Award of Valor is given for acts of heroism or lifesaving action while in the line of duty. The valor award recipients were nominated due to their actions on Jan. 14, at which time the Riverside Police Department received a call from a resident about a 17-year-old female juvenile that had left the house depressed and had left a suicide note. At the time, the juvenile was only wearing sweatpants and had no heavy winter clothing and also had no shoes. The weather conditions on Jan. 14 were heavy snow, freezing temperatures and freezing rain occurring at the time the police officers were responding to the call.
Each officer who received a valor award participated in launching a massive search for the juvenile which included getting the resources of our neighboring police agencies, Cook County Sheriff's Police Department's helicopter unit, the Cook County Sheriff's police bloodhound K9 unit and numerous police and fire agencies to conduct a ground search.
After conducting a six-hour search, the juvenile was located along the Des Plaines River on the bank adjacent to the Barrypoint Bridge. The juvenile was eventually transported to a local hospital. The attending emergency room physician told police personnel that if the juvenile had been exposed to the weather for another hour, her core temperature would have fallen below acceptable levels and she could have possibly died.
As police chief, I am honored to serve with these distinguished officers and want to let the residents of Riverside know that you have dedicated men and women who pledge themselves to serving the citizens of Riverside in a professional, caring and compassionate manner every single day.
Congratulations to all the recipients!
Tom Weitzel is chief of police in the village of Riverside