At the Austintown Township meeting last week, seven officers and individuals were recognized for their efforts to safely bring a murder suspect into custody while saving a little girl's life.
According to Austintown Police Chief Robert Gavalier, the event took place on July 28. Austintown Police were informed a triple-murder fugitive from Pennsylvania was in the township. The suspect was Kevin Cleeves, who was said to have killed his wife and two other people before fleeing into Ohio.
Cleeves' vehicle was first spotted by Det. Sgt. Jordan Yacovone. He spotted the car at a hotel and was followed by Sgt. Valerie Saluga, who went into a dark wooded area alone, during a pouring rain, to get positive identification of the vehicle's plates.
"The car left shortly after Sgt. Saluga identified it as Cleeves' vehicle," Gavalier said.
He said Yacavone, Saluga, and several other officers merged at Walgreens where the vehicle had pulled in the parking lot. Six officers surrounded the vehicle, but were faced with another challenge. Cleeves had his four-year-old daughter in the car and threatened to kill her.
"It was a tough situation," Gavalier said. "With the little girl in the car, officers risked hitting her if they were to fire at the suspect."
The situation was eventually brought under control and Cleeves was arrested.
Honored for their efforts to think quickly, keep a clear mind, and properly diffuse what could have been a dangerous situation, were Austintown officers Det. Sgt. Yacovone, Sgt. Saluga, Sgt. William Hoelzel, Officer Christopher Collins, Officer Gregory Brinsko, and dispatcher Jessica Pickard. Also recognized were Mahoning County Deputy Sgt. Jeffrey Saluga and Austintown resident Christine Hoelzel.
While the officers honored were the ones on the front line dealing with the dangerous event, Gavalier said the dispatcher was behind the scenes, but doing a great job as well.
"Dispatcher Pickard had to keep calm in the situation as she handled this call and took other calls as well," he said. "She did a great job of giving out information in a timely fashion."
As far as Christine Hoelzel's role in the incident. She came from home to take custody of the little girl. She took care of the girl for a day and a half, until family could be located to come and get her.
"Christine went outside her normal life to take care of the little girl," Gavalier said. "She is to be commended for her efforts."
The officers received the "Rescue Ribbon" which is red, white, and blue. The ribbon is given to officers whose actions result in rescuing human life from an extremely hazardous situation.
Christine Hoelzel received the Citizens Award and a letter of recognition for her efforts in helping with the welfare of the little girl.