Seven employees of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) were honored in a ceremony Dec. 4 when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger awarded them the Medal of Valor for performing extraordinary acts of heroism. The Governor’s Medal of Valor is the highest honor the state can bestow on its employees.
The Caltrans recipients were among 31 state employees who received awards and public recognition for their courage and concern for others in life-and-death situations.
“I am exceedingly proud of these Caltrans employees,” said Director Will Kempton. “They personify the highest level of personal commitment and integrity, having put themselves at risk in order to help people they don’t even know. It is an honor to have them as part of the Caltrans family.”
In the early morning cold of last Jan. 13, Caltrans Equipment Operator Timothy Mooney was sanding icy areas of Highway 175, between Hopland and Lakeport, when he noticed a car some 50 to 80 ft. down a steep slope. Investigating, he heard noises coming from the trunk, and discovered an injured man with severe head lacerations. The man had been attacked, and although neither knew whether the perpetrators were still in the area, Mooney stayed to assist. He contacted the California Highway Patrol (CHP). To keep the injured man as comfortable as possible while waiting for help, Mooney gave him his raincoat. Without thinking of his own safety, Mooney rescued the likely victim of a kidnapping and attempted murder.
On Nov. 24, 2004, Caltrans Equipment Operator Stephen C. Maraviov, noticed tire tracks that ran across the shoulder of Highway 36 in Trinity County, toward the edge of an embankment. He stopped to investigate and found an upside-down vehicle wedged against a tree, about 50 ft. down the steep bank, and 1,000 ft. above the canyon floor. Maraviov found a cold, disoriented, elderly woman trapped in the vehicle. The temperature was only 20 degrees, so Maraviov gave her his jacket before climbing back up the slope to call for assistance. When he returned, he secured the woman’s car to the tree with a chain. Unable to open any doors, he removed the back seat and helped the woman escape through the trunk. He then carried the woman up to the road, where medical help was just arriving. The CHP determined the accident had happened around 6:30 p.m. the previous day, and the woman had been trapped in her car approximately 14 hours before Maraviov rescued her.
Caltrans Highway Equipment Operator Chris Ball rescued a man trapped in his van in the Sierra Nevada during a major winter storm at 3:00 a.m. on Dec. 31, 2005.
Ball was operating a plow truck to clear a mud-and-rock slide blocking traffic lanes on Interstate 80. The debris was 4 to 7 ft. deep and had created a “lake” more than 3 ft. deep in the middle of the highway. While working to remove the mud and rock, another slide occurred, catching several vehicles in its path, including a delivery van. The slide pushed the van across the westbound lanes, through a center median rail and into the eastbound lanes. Mud was running over the hood and debris was as high as the driver’s window. A rock falling from the side of the mountain struck the van, creating an 18-in. hole in its side.
Officials ordered an evacuation of the area, and when preparing to leave, Ball saw a man trapped inside the delivery van. He jumped over the median barrier, waded through flowing mud and rock, and tried in vain open the van’s door. It was jammed, so Ball pulled the man through the driver’s window and carried him through the debris to safety.
John Fitzgerald and Anand Kapoor, both transportation engineers, rescued a woman trapped in her vehicle after a collision on May 4, 2006. While working near an intersection in Visalia, the Caltrans employees witnessed a car run a red light and hit an SUV broadside. The vehicle rolled over several times before resting on its side. The driver was trapped inside, and there was smoke coming from the vehicle. Fearing a fire, Fitzgerald and Kapoor rushed over, ripped the windshield out with their bare hands, and pulled the woman to safety. They stayed and comforted her until paramedics arrived, ignoring the cuts and bruises they had sustained.
Last Jan. 10, Caltrans Equipment Operator Wayne Moeck and Highway Maintenance Worker Charles Russell risked their lives to rescue two people and a dog from a burning house in San Diego. While driving a Caltrans tow truck east across the Coronado Bridge, they noticed black smoke in a nearby neighborhood, and drove to the scene to see if they could help. They found children standing in front of a burning house, but no firefighters or other adults in the area. While Russell used the garden hose to spray the roof with water, Moeck entered the smoke-filled home to see if anyone was still inside.
After checking several rooms and calling out, he found two disoriented people and a dog and led them outside. He had likely saved the lives of all three that day.