Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182
www.doccs.ny.gov

For immediate release:

Wednesday, August 18, 1999

Correctional Services honors five employees; cites their valor, Governor's assistance

Commissioner Glenn S. Goord today presented the Department's awards for valor to five employees during an annual ceremony held at the DOCS' Training Academy in Albany.

The Department's highest award, the Medal of Honor, is presented to "an employee whose actions, in the line of duty, evidence an extraordinary degree of courage, bravery or heroism." The single 1999 Medal of Honor recipient is Correction Officer William J. Conz from the Elmira Correctional Facility.

The Department's Medal of Merit is presented to "an employee for extraordinary performance in the line of duty or for an exceptional contribution to the Department." The 1999 Medal of Merit recipients are Correction Officer James O. Virmala from the Beacon Correctional Facility, Clinton Correctional Facility Correction Officers Daniel L. Bechard and Robert A. St. Yves, and Correction Officer Richard E. Kreig from the Hudson Correctional Facility.

Commissioner Goord said, "These five brave correction employees have earned the gratitude and admiration of their peers, their neighbors and New Yorkers throughout the state. We honor them today as examples of the professionalism, dedication and bravery of our 32,000 correction employees. These worthy individuals can truly be called heroes."

Governor George E. Pataki sent the honorees a letter, stating that "It is a pleasure to join with your families, friends and coworkers in commending the professionalism, bravery and valor" that have earned them the awards. The Governor added, "I am also proud of this Administration's continuing initiatives to advance your efforts. We are in the midst of the largest maximum-security expansion program in 70 years and have restored the death penalty as an appropriate response to heinous conduct. We have eliminated parole for violent felons, criminalized the vile acts of "inmate throwers," barred violent felons from participating in work release and increased staffing levels."

Governor Pataki also noted in his letter that "Today's recipients are indeed worthy individuals. One Correction Officer risked his life to save a fellow Officer from an inmate who was repeatedly stabbing him with a weapon. Two other Officers heroically rescued people from burning buildings with little regard for their own safety. Two others made crucial use of their well-honed emergency medical skills to help save the lives of two accident victims - one a 2-year-old girl. The deeds are varied, but the thread is common: a selfless concern for the safety and well-being of others, and a dedicated professionalism unmatched in any other correctional system in the country.

"Our continued support of the important work of all in the Department of Correctional Services will never waver," wrote Governor Pataki. "You truly represent the highest standards among Correctional professionals throughout the country. For that I thank you, and congratulate you for a job well done."

Commissioner Goord noted that Governor Pataki's commitment to all DOCS employees has been clearly evident since he took office in 1995.

"Governor Pataki is indeed a friend to this Department," said Commissioner Goord. "At his direction, we are in the midst of a massive expansion that will provide us with the cells needed to segregate from the general population those inmates who chose to assault staff and others and disobey prison rules - meaning a safer environment for all within the system.

"Additionally," continued Commissioner Goord, Athese new cells give us the space to transfer inmates who are now locked up in general confinement cells in maximum-security prisons. That frees up "max beds" so we can increase our intake from the counties, which are holding record numbers of felons awaiting transfer to state custody. Thus, the counties also are receiving needed relief through the opening of these new cells."

Commissioner Goord added, "The Governor's commitment to increased capacity is especially important in light of his Sentencing Reform Act of 1995 and Jenna's Law, which together mandate that all violent offenders get longer maximum sentences and then serve at least 6/7ths of them C rather than the old law, which allowed for their release after only as little as one-third of their maximum sentences. They will be staying in our system longer. These new cells allow us to house them appropriately and to reduce current pressure on the system."

New York's communities also are safer as a result of Governor Pataki's wide-sweeping criminal reform initiatives, said Commissioner Goord.

"Preliminary statistics for 1998 show a 29 percent reduction in crime in New York state since 1994, with a 34 percent reduction in violent crime and a 54 percent drop in the murder rate," said Commissioner Goord. "Governor Pataki's criminal justice initiatives have fueled that decrease, leading to safer streets in communities throughout New York state.

"At the same time," noted Commissioner Goord, "Governor Pataki remains committed to the safety and security of our employees charged with the custody of the offenders that his initiatives take off of our streets. His construction program and program initiatives are testimony to his commitment to all our employees, whom he also honors by proclaiming this as Correctional Services Employee Week."

Commissioner Goord said, "Each day of the year, correctional employees go inside of prisons to perform the most difficult tasks that the state asks of any of its employees. And every day, they are equal to that challenge. It is only appropriate that we take time each year to recognize and encourage the commitment, esprit de corps and selflessness of our work force, which are typified by this year's honorees."

Since the Department's awards program was instituted in 1984 and including today's ceremony, a total of 105 awards have been presented. The Medal of Honor has been presented to 33 employees, including 26 Correction Officers, three Sergeants and four civilian employees. The Medal of Merit has now been presented to 72 employees, including 52 Correction Officers, four Sergeants, three Lieutenants and 13 civilians.

Attached are copies of the citations listing the action for which each recipient is being honored as well as a sheet listing biographical material on each recipient.

Citations for Awards Ceremony

Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is presented "to an employee whose actions, in the line of duty, evidence an extraordinary degree of courage, bravery or heroism." The medal is gold-colored metal, circular, approximately 1 3/8" in diameter and is suspended from a gold ribbon with two vertical blue stripes. The obverse side displays a raised state seal and "New York State Correctional Services," while the reverse is engraved with the recipient's name and the date the medal was presented. In addition, uniformed employees receive a service ribbon, for wear with Class A uniforms, that is approximately 1 3/8" by 3/8" having a gold field with two vertical blue stripes. Civilian employees receive, in addition to the medal, a lapel pin approximately 1/4" by 3?4" having a gold field with two vertical blue stripes.

Elmira Correction Officer William J. Conz:

On July 7, 1998, Correction Officer Jerry Fochler was letting inmates out for keeplock recreation on 4 Gallery. He was attacked by an inmate who stabbed him several times with a shank before he could get away. Officer Fochler ran to the orientation area where the inmate pursued him. The inmate continued to stab the Officer in the back of the neck and head. You observed the inmate pursuing Officer Fochler, and immediately pulled your baton and ran to his assistance. When the inmate saw you, he ran to 8 Cell, stopped, and then rushed you with the weapon still in his hand. As the inmate attempted to stab you, you swung your baton at the inmate to ward him away, and ordered the inmate to drop the weapon. The inmate ran down the gallery stopping at 14 Cell, and turned again on you, waving the weapon in an aggressive manner. Sergeant Barbara Charles, who had also responded, talked the inmate into dropping the weapon. The inmate was then restrained and placed in the Special Housing Unit. Officer Fochler was transported to a local hospital where he was treated for several puncture wounds and lacerations.

Your quick response, without regard for your own safety, was instrumental in saving Officer Fochler's life. Your actions exemplify your professionalism and concern for the safety of your fellow officers.

Commissioner Goord, it is my pleasure to present Officer Conz to receive the Department's Medal of Honor.

Medal of Merit

The Department's Medal of Merit is presented "to an employee for extraordinary performance in the line of duty or for an exceptional contribution to the Department." The medal is gold- colored metal, circular, approximately 1" in diameter, and is suspended from a blue ribbon with two vertical gold stripes. The obverse side displays a raised state seal and "New York State Correctional Services," while the reverse is engraved with the recipient's name and the date the medal was presented. In addition, uniformed employees receive a service ribbon approximately 1 " by " having a blue field with two vertical gold stripes for wear with Class A uniforms. Civilian employees receive, in addition to the medal, a lapel pin approximately ¼"by ¾" having a blue field with two vertical gold stripes.

Beacon Correction Officer James O. Virmala:

On December 8, 1998, at approximately 5 p.m, you noticed smoke and flames coming from a staff residence. After calling in an alarm on your radio, you entered the burning residence without regard for your own safety and evacuated three occupants. After making sure that no one else was in the building, you secured the perimeter and prevented the residents from re-entering the building.

Your quick and decisive actions averted the potential loss of life, and prevented substantial damage to state property.

Commissioner Goord, it is my pleasure to present Officer Virmala to receive the Department's Medal of Merit.

Clinton Correction Officer Daniel L. Bechard:

On March 31, 1998, while off-duty, you assisted in the search for a missing two-year old girl, Alexa Sorrell. She had fallen into a flooded ditch, and was dragged under water through three culverts. When located, you used CPR to help revive Alexa until emergency crews arrived. The frigid waters had slowed her bodily functions which helped prevent water from filling her lungs. Alexa was transported to the hospital where her condition was initially critical, but she subsequently made a complete recovery from her injuries.

Your quick actions and proper use of your Departmental training were instrumental in saving a young life.

Commissioner Goord, it is my pleasure to present Officer Bechard to receive the Department's Medal of Merit.

Clinton Correction Officer Robert A. St. Yves:

On June 12, 1998, while off-duty you came upon an accident where a woman had been seriously injured. As the first one on the scene, you immediately recognized that the woman, Mildred Young, had a serious neck injury. You assisted by holding the woman's head in place and restricting her movement until emergency rescue workers arrived and transported her to a local hospital. This woman did have a broken neck, and immediate surgery was performed to save her life. The doctors have credited her recovery to your immediate actions at the accident scene.

Your quick and decisive actions certainly made a difference in Mildred Young's life, and she refers to you as her "Angel of Mercy."

Commissioner Goord, it is my pleasure to present Officer St. Yves to receive the Department's Medal of Merit.

Hudson Correction Officer Richard E. Kreig:

On the night of November 24, 1998, at approximately 5 p.m., while off-duty and accompanied by your wife, you were driving down a street in the city of Hudson. You noticed smoke coming from a multi-family house. Arriving at the scene, you first checked to see if all occupants were accounted for. You heard someone start hollering that there was a kid in the second-floor bedroom. Without regard for your own safety, you ran into the smoke-filled house and up the stairs. You were immediately met with thick black smoke and flames. After calling out, you found a dazed four-year old boy walking around one of the bedrooms. You quickly grabbed the boy and raced down the stairs and out of the house, minutes before the entire second floor was engulfed in flames.

Your heroic actions were duly recognized by the local media and community leaders.

Commissioner Goord, it is my pleasure to present Officer Kreig to receive the Department's Medal of Merit.

Biographies of Award Recipients

MEDAL OF HONOR

William J. Conz, Correction Officer - Elmira

Date of Birth: August 27, 1955

DOCS Work History: October 5, 1981 to present

Current Salary: $41,500

MEDAL OF MERIT

James O. Virmala, Correction Officer - Beacon

Date of Birth: October 26, 1968

DOCS Work History: June 13, 1994 to present

Current Salary: $34,215

Daniel L. Bechard, Correction Officer - Clinton

Date of Birth: June 8, 1953

DOCS Work History: March 19, 1990 to present

Current Salary: $37,860

Robert A. St. Yves, Correction Officer - Clinton

Date of Birth: November 2, 1947

DOCS Work History: July 11, 1994 to present

Current Salary: $34,215

Richard E. Kreig, Correction Officer - Hudson

Date of Birth: July 28, 1961

DOCS Work History: February 28 1984 to present

Current Salary: $41,500