Area first responders recognized for 'saving lives' in times of peril

Two officers in Sewickley incident showed


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A burglar alarm activated this summer at a house in Sewickley. The owner had left hours earlier, after she was beaten by her former lover, who was her husband's cousin, police accounts state.

Six police officers from five departments entered the home on Thorn Street and found Sgt. Robert Brooks, a suicidal Army Ranger, lying on top of a loft bed.

Police said Brooks refused to come down, so they used a Taser on him and he pulled out the barbs. They said Sgt. Brooks scuffled with them, grabbing one officer's gun.

Sewickley Sgt. David Mazza and Allegheny County police Lt. Michael O'Keefe fired a combined five bullets, killing Brooks.

Sgt. Mazza and Lt. O'Keefe were among 20 first responders honored Friday at the annual Amen Corner Sen. John Heinz Law Enforcement Luncheon. The Allegheny County district attorney's office is reviewing the shooting.

"This is an award for saving lives, not for taking a life," said Henry Wiehagen, president of the Allegheny County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 91, which nominated the officers for the Shock and Awe award.

Mr. Wiehagen, a retired police chief, said the officers showed "exemplary service in the face of an extremely dangerous situation."

Lt. O'Keefe expressed admiration for the other officers who were in the home with them that day -- Sewickley Heights Patrolman J.J. Harrison, Leetsdale Sgt. Dan Raible, Leetsdale Capt. Mike Slawianowski and Edgeworth Officer Paul Yolinsky. "You all have guts and I'm proud to call you my brothers," the lieutenant said.

A short while later, the majority of the nearly 400 people in attendance gave a standing ovation to two officers who received the Above and Beyond award that day -- Pittsburgh Officers Christopher Kertis and Charles Thomas.

The pair were working the overnight shift in the city's Zone 5 station early March 17 when police said Dante A. Bonner, 19, of Homewood opened fire and struck Officer Kertis, who still has bullets in his foot and left leg. He also broke both wrists and was hit in the right leg and bullet-resistant vest.

He returned to work at the Zone 5 station, in part, he said, because he appreciated the way his colleagues quickly rushed to his aid.

These people also received awards at the luncheon:

• Homestead Officer Matt Fusco, for helping a woman who tried to jump off a bridge

• North Fayette Sgt. David Sandora, for helping to peacefully resolve a situation in which a man threatened his family

• Allegheny County district attorney's Detectives Ray Bonacci and Pete Grbach, Swissvale Detective Justin Keenan and McKees Rocks Detective Shaun Wisenbach, for a cocaine bust in Monroeville

• McKees Rocks Officers Ryan Coll and David Finerty, for saving two people from a fiery car crash

• South Park Officers John Booth and Joseph Leonetti, for helping a woman who was stranded in her vehicle during flooding this summer

• Ohio Township Officers D. Ryan Ging and S. David Rose, who helped save six people -- including two children -- along the Ohio River

• Allegheny County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Faulds, for quickly detaining three people in a Downtown shooting earlier this year

• Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose foundation supplies dogs to police agencies throughout the country


Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.

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