The University of Colorado Police Department held its annual awards ceremony Wednesday night and every active member of the department received at least one award for his or her recent service.
However, three members of the department were singled out in particular for actions they took in 2011 that saved lives, and, in the words Chief Joe Roy, provided a "tremendous benefit" to the people they helped and the larger Boulder community.
CU police Cpl. Matt DeLaria and Officer Joe Rossi were presented with the department's Lifesaving Award for their efforts in locating and stabilizing a woman who attempted suicide on Aug. 31, 2011.
Cmdr. Jason Wade was presented with the department's Distinguished Service Star Award -- an award for which he was nominated by his peers -- for his actions on Nov. 19, 2011, when he pulled a highly intoxicated teenager from a burning car on the side of U.S. 36.
DeLaria and Wade sat down prior to the ceremony and reflected on the events of those two days and their actions that earned them recognition from their peers.
DeLaria recalled that about 6 p.m. on Aug. 31, 2011, he and Rossi were among many university officers responding to a call about a suicidal woman supposedly in Room 103 of the College Inn, a vacant former overflow dormitory now slated for demolition.
While five units were searching the College Inn for the woman, the two men, each having more than a decade of experience with CUPD, acted on a hunch of Rossi's and headed over to the University Inn, a motel located off campus at 1632 Broadway.
DeLaria said he peered through a window into Room 103 and saw the woman, who had attempted to intentionally overdose on a cocktail of alcohol, prescription drugs and inhalants, lying unresponsive on the floor.
The window was ajar, so the two men slid it open, popped out the screen and gained entry into the room, DeLaria said. They were able to rouse the woman and call for assistance, eventually helping load her into an ambulance where she was stabilized.
"When I looked in the window I was afraid we were too late. She looked to dead to me," DeLaria recalled. "Officer Rossi and I have been doing this job for a long time, so any time that you actually get to help people is a good day for us. It felt good."
'Seemed to go really quick'
Late on the evening of Nov. 19, 2011, Wade, then a sergeant with the department, was driving eastbound on U.S. 36 near Davidson Mesa after following a suspected drunken driver when he spotted a white SUV on the side of the road with flames visible under the hood.
He pulled over and instructed three young men who were outside the vehicle to move back near his squad car while he used his cruiser's fire extinguisher to try to slow down the flames until Boulder fire crews could get there. The flames continued to grow and the intense heat eventually caused one of the tires to explode, Wade recalled.
With his extinguisher doing little good, Wade said he corralled the three men and had them take shelter in the back seat of his car until fire crews could arrive. He said that is when the three men told him a fourth person was passed out in the back of the SUV.
"I didn't hear the fire department coming. I didn't see the trucks, so I figured there was no one else there to do that, so that's when I made a decision to run up there and see if I could get him out of the car," Wade said.
He found the unresponsive male, who he estimated to be about 16 or 17, in the back of the car in a pool of vomit. He shook him, but he did not start moving, so, with the flames engulfing the front seats of the car, Wade said he decided to physically pull the teen from the car.
The male, slowly beginning to become aware of his surroundings, grabbed onto the door frame, but Wade was able to overpower him and pull him from the SUV, eventually getting him to sit down on the side of the road until emergency crews arrived.
"It seemed to go really quick," Wade said of the incident. "I think that probably any of our officers in the same situation would have done the same thing. There is just that desire to help out. I was in the right place at the right time."
'We do it to try to help people'
Chief Roy said he and the entire department takes pride in the actions of Wade, DeLaria and Rossi.
"People get into police work to provide service to the community and there are times when that really is a special task and I am very happy to see that our people stepped up to that task." Roy said. "They did a great job for us in these particular instances and I'm certain that the people that they helped feel the same way."
Wade said the best part of the annual awards ceremony is not receiving any sort of special recognition, but getting to take a step back from what can be a difficult job and spending time with fellow department members.
DeLaria, who said he likes the awards event because it provides him with the rare opportunity to eat dinner with his wife, credited Rossi and all his fellow officers for working hard to serve the community, noting each deserves all of the awards they receive.
"It's humbling, but it's not why we do the job," DeLaria said. "We do it to try to help people."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or email@example.com.