By Dan Scanlan
The Florida Times-Union
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Two officers.
Two burning trucks.
Two Medal of Valor awards.
Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford handed out the medals at a ceremony Thursday, honoring the two men who braved flames to save the life of someone trapped in a vehicle in separate incidents over the summer.
One went to Corrections Officer James Wade of Arlington for his efforts on West Beaver Street June 27, the other to DUI enforcement Officer Folin Christmas of North Jacksonville for his rescue on San Pablo Road July 22.
The awards were two of only four that have been given to local law enforcement in the past decade.
"The Medals of Valor are incredibly rare," said Rutherford. "An officer has to place their own life in great peril and risk it saving another life."
Wade was off duty when he saw a pickup swerve off West Beaver Street and hit a tree. The driver was unconscious when Wade got to the mangled wreck, flames licking all around. He smashed the driver's window and tried to pull the door open.
"James used enough force to bend the frame of the truck, but could not get the man free," said Rutherford. "He did not stop trying. In the process, shards of glass were embedded in his arm and he received severe lacerations to his hands."
The victim was trapped by the steering column. Despite the flames, Wade stayed with him until a fire engine doused the blaze and saved him. Police were unable to supply the victim's name.
Christmas was on patrol early July 22 on Beach Boulevard when he spotted a red Mercury Mountaineer driving erratically and tried to pull it over near San Pablo Road North. The driver jumped a curb, spun out and headed straight at Christmas' cruiser before driving north. Less than two minutes later, Christmas drove up on the flaming wreck of the Mercury, crushed into a wall and tree.
The rescue was captured on Christmas' dashboard video camera, showing the officer running to the wreck.
"Come on, get out," he is heard yelling as flames spread.
"My right ankle's stuck," the driver says.
"Get out! You are going to burn to death!" the officer yelled as he pulled the man out.
Christmas and his family watched the video at the award ceremony, the audience quiet as they saw him drag 18-year-old Jose Luis Villalona of Atlantic Beach out, helped by East Arlington resident Larry Flowers and Mandarin resident Erika Algarin, who were driving past the accident.
Both received Certificates of Appreciation from Rutherford.
"We saw the flames and the suspect, or victim at the time, behind the wheel, and Officer Christmas trying to help him out," said Algarin, a former emergency medical technician. "Before our vehicle had even stopped, Larry hopped out and I followed close behind."
Both awards were co-sponsored by First Coast Security Services and the Justice Coalition, which gave Wade and Christmas plaques, trophies and Ruth's Chris steak house certificates.
Villalona pleaded guilty Oct. 4 to a charge of driving under the influence and will pay restitution in lieu of jail time, according to the State Attorney's Office.
Copyright 2007 Florida Times-Union
Fla. officers receive Medal of Valor