DPS Awards Purple Hearts, Honors Outstanding Employees

AUSTIN, February 12, 2016 – The Texas Public Safety Commission (PSC) and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw presented two Purple Hearts, eight Director’s Citations and four Lifesaving Awards to DPS employees for their exemplary service. In addition, two DPS employees were recognized with William P. Clements Excellence Awards for outstanding service throughout their careers; and four other individuals received Director’s Awards.

“These extraordinary individuals embody what it means to be true public servants – in some cases putting their lives on the line to protect others or come to the aid of their fellow Texans,” said Director McCraw. “Today we honor these award recipients and show our gratitude for their courageous actions and unwavering commitment to helping others.”

The William P. Clements Excellence Award, named in honor of the former governor and his commitment to excellence in government, recognizes employees who display exceptional performance throughout their DPS career. The commissioned recipient was RangerJoe Haralson, Texas Ranger Division in Texas City, and the non-commissioned recipient was Shantel Kaster, Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) Analyst in Austin.

Haralson began his career with DPS in 1971 and was assigned to Highway Patrol in Brenham. In 1979, he was promoted to Texas Ranger in Texas City, where he has remained for more than 34 years. Haralson has been recognized multiple times for his work on major cases and has been involved in numerous high-profile investigations. He also received special recognition for the recovery of a kidnapped infant and abducted child, who was kept from her mother for more than four years. In addition, he was a founding member of the Texas Ranger RECON Team and now serves as the team leader of the Region 2 Ranger Special Response Team.

Kaster began her DPS career in 1998 as an evidence technician in Austin. In 1999, she became a CODIS analyst and has played an integral role in the processing of more than 800,000 samples from Texas that have been uploaded into the National CODIS database. Since 2010, Kaster has acted as the local CODIS Administrator for the Texas DPS Crime Lab CODIS section and works with all 16 CODIS labs in Texas as well as labs through the United States. During this time, she has contributed to more than 13,000 notifications for CODIS hits from unsolved cases to DNA evidence that matches a Texas offender.

The following awards also were presented today:

Sgt. Chad Matlock and Sgt. Michael Thomas, both Highway Patrol in Odessa, each received a Purple Heart and Director’s Citation. Cpl. Jon Shock and Cpl. Oscar Villarreal, both Highway Patrol in Odessa, each received a Director’s Citation. On August 11, 2015, Highway Patrol personnel were called to assist the Texas Rangers with locating and apprehending an armed fugitive. The fugitive was located hidden in the bathroom of a convenience store. Matlock, Thomas, Shock and Villarreal subsequently approached the bathroom, identified themselves and attempted to make entry into the bathroom. The suspect then emerged and began firing at the Troopers. Matlock and Thomas were wounded during the exchange of gunfire; however Matlock, Shock and Villarreal were able to return fire, fatally wounding the suspect. Both Matlock and Thomas were transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Trooper Kevin McKellar, Highway Patrol in Coldspring, received a Director’s Citation. While on duty May 12, 2015, McKellar responded to a crash in San Jacinto County where a vehicle was swept off the road by floodwaters. McKellar observed the driver holding onto a tree surrounded by fast-moving water. He subsequently donned a life jacket and harness to enter the water and to pull the woman to safety. The driver was then treated for hypothermia and transported to a hospital.

Cpl. Gary Stiles, Highway Patrol in Gatesville, received the Lifesaving Award. While on patrol in Hamilton County on May 12, 2015, Stiles was notified that the Lometa Police Department was attempting to apprehend a known felon who was evading law enforcement in a vehicle and considered to be armed and dangerous. Stiles then assisted with a roadblock to stop the fleeing suspect. Once stopped, the suspect attempted to commit suicide, and Stiles, Lometa Police Chief Bob Montgomery and Mills County Sheriff’s Deputy Johnny Brown administered first aid until EMS arrived and the suspect was airlifted to a hospital for continued care. Lometa Police Department Chief Bob Montgomery and Mills County Deputy Sheriff Johnny Brown were each awarded the Director’s Award.

Trooper Mario Ayala, Highway Patrol – Commercial Vehicle Enforcement in George West, and Trooper David Patch, Highway Patrol in Jourdanton, each received a Lifesaving Award. While assigned to border operations on Aug. 20, 2015, Ayala responded to a shooting in Starr County near La Grulla. When Ayala arrived at the scene, he found a male with a gunshot wound to his shoulder and began to administer first aid. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Evenson Demas and Trooper Patch also arrived on the scene and assisted with first aid efforts. The victim was eventually airlifted to an area hospital for further treatment. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Evenson Demas also received a Director’s Award.

Sgt. Virgil Verduzco, Highway Patrol in San Marcos, received a Lifesaving Award. While assigned to border operations on Oct. 31, 2015, Verduzco entered a restaurant in Rio Grande City and was approached by a man seeking aid for a child who appeared to be choking. Verduzco ran to the child and began maneuvers to clear the child’s airways. The child subsequently began to breathe on its own and was transported to the hospital for further observation.

BreAunna Glover, Frank Pritchett and Utanah Hoermann, all Driver License Division in Garland, were each awarded a Director’s Citation. On Nov. 15, 2015, Customer Service Representative Glover ran a warrant check on a customer and discovered that the individual was wanted for murder in Washington, D.C. Glover notified her supervisor, Hoermann, who notified a Trooper of the situation. Glover stalled completion of the customer’s transaction until a Trooper arrived. When the Trooper arrived, Customer Service Representative Pritchett and a civilian Juan Espinoza helped the Trooper subdue the suspect and ensure his apprehension. Juan Espinoza received a Director’s Award for his actions during the incident.

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