Pittsburgh officers honored for heroism

Jill King Greenwood

Copyright 2006 Tribune Review Publishing Company
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Pittsburgh Tribune Review 

Pittsburgh police Detective Donald Pasquarelli fought through dense smoke and flames last fall to rescue four people from a burning Greenfield house.

He was off-duty and about a block away from the fire when he heard fellow Zone 4 Officer Wanda Duncan on the police radio saying she was charging into the house. Pasquarelli raced to help Duncan save three people from the third floor and another who had been sleeping in the basement.

Neither officer considers the actions heroic.

"It's just part of the job," Pasquarelli said Monday. "It's really nothing that anyone else wouldn't do. That's what you sign on for when you take this job."

Police Chief Dominic J. Costa and Mayor Bob O'Connor saw things differently yesterday when they presented the officers with the Bureau Citation, the police department's second-highest honor, during an awards ceremony in City Council chambers.

A total of 149 awards were given to officers from all four police zones.

"It's nice to hear these stories and all the good stuff that our officers are doing, because too often the public only hears the bad stuff," Costa said. "Our officers are out there every day putting their lives on the line and giving 110 percent."

Duncan was responding to a car accident on Sept. 10 when a passerby told her about the house fire on Hazelwood Avenue. Flames had engulfed the roof by the time she arrived. Pasquarelli arrived moments later, helping Duncan rescue the four occupants, including the man sleeping in the basement.

"This house was blazing, and he was sleeping right through it," Pasquarelli said.

Alexander Demitras, 19, was at the ceremony to see two officers from Zone 3 honored for saving his life.

Demitras' car was stalled at Route 51 and the Liberty Tunnels on June 12 when he looked over at the car next to him. He found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.

"I just looked up and kind of nodded 'hi' to the guy, and the next thing I know he's pointing a gun at me and firing," Demitras said. "I didn't realize what was happening until the second shot."

Demitras was shot five times and lay in his car bleeding while the gunman sped off inbound through the Liberty Tunnels. Three car lengths behind Demitras' car was officer Lawrence Mercurio, who was off duty-and riding his personal motorcycle. He and officer Matthew Turko, who was on duty and in the area, alerted a nearby ambulance unit and sped off after the suspect's red Ford Taurus.

The suspect, Damon Woodson, 19, of the Hill District, was captured after a brief chase and is awaiting trial. Mercurio and Turko declined to comment about the arrest.

Demitras, who had his kidney, spleen and part of his pancreas removed, said he's thankful the officers responded so quickly.

"Without officers like them, the guy who shot me might still be out there and someone else might not be as lucky," he said. 
February 14, 2006

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