By Dan Campana and Nick Swedberg
The call of duty takes on many forms for law enforcement officers.
Sometimes it requires actions that go beyond just the “protect and serve” mantra to preserving someone’s life.
Recently, officers around the Chicago area were recognized for their work to act quickly and save the lives of people they encountered while out on the job.
The following are stories from Lake County, University of Illinois-Chicago, Park Ridge and Aurora:
Juvenile pulled from ledge by Lake County deputies
On Sept. 8, Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Perley, a six-year veteran, was doing a business check at a parking garage along Lake-Cook Road in Deer Park when he noticed two teens with a “plume of smoke” over their heads on the fifth level around 9 p.m.
After talking with the teens, Perley opted for calling their parents instead of any charges. The respective parents arrived and, after a few minutes, one set of parents went with their son to the fourth level to retrieve his car.
“All of a sudden we heard these blood-curdling screams … of terror,” recalled fellow Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Tina Cora.
She immediately drove to the fourth level to find the teen battering his mother, Cora said, adding that the teen looked at her and then at the ledge. Her “gut feeling” that something bad was about to happen rang true when the teen ran to and over the ledge.
“For a minute, I thought he was dead,” Cora said. “Then I noticed his hands were still on the concrete.”
The teen dangled by his fingers from the fourth-level ledge. Cora, who admits she’s afraid of heights, ran over, grabbed the teen’s wrists and hunkered down even as he tried to pull free of her grip.
Perley had been on the fifth level with the teen’s father, but arrived quickly to help Cora by grabbing onto to the teen’s other arm. Even as the teen’s fingers began to slip, he kept his feet wedged in the third-level opening to try to fend off the rescue effort, the deputies described.
“It seemed like an eternity,” Perley said of the two- to three-minute incident.
“We had no leverage to pull him up,” Cora described. “My biggest thing was just holding on.”
The deputies, with the help of the teen’s father, were able to pull him back. The teen continued to resist, but Perley and Cora kept him on the ground to prevent him from trying anything else to hurt himself.
“Honestly, I thought he was going to jump off the other ledge,” Perley explained of the teen’s apparent motives once pulled to safety initially.
A short time later, paramedics arrived to take the teen for treatment.
“Everybody went home safely, that’s the most important thing,” Perley added. “(The teen) got the treatment he needed that night.”
Cora, who joined Lake County in 2014 after several years in other departments, and Perley downplayed their heroics, suggesting it was what anyone in their position would have done. Each was grateful for their partner’s actions.
“It was definitely a team effort,” Perley said.
Cora acknowledged thinking back on the “traumatic experience” has made her emotional at times partly as a parent of two daughters, but also because of the tragic potential if the teen had fallen.
“At one point, his life was in our hands,” Cora explained. “I still get the chills.”
UIC officer rescues woman from beneath semi
University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Officer Mike Mesce, a four-year veteran, was on regular patrol in September when he heard a young woman yelling for help.
Glancing out his patrol car window, Mesce saw a woman whose legs had somehow become trapped in the wheel well of a moving semi-truck. It was a “gruesome and scary” event the 28-year-old officer likely will never forget.
“Out of my driver’s side window, I hear a woman screaming,” he said. “I look over and I see the upper half of a (woman) and her arms are flailing.”
Within moments, Mesce flipped on his lights and sirens and whipped his patrol car around on Roosevelt Road to stop the truck.
The 22-year-old woman, a former UIC student, had been jogging that September morning and was still in her running clothes when she stopped at the corner of Roosevelt and Ashland Avenue. That’s when the semi truck’s rear wheels jumped the curb while turning onto Roosevelt, striking the woman and dragging her for 15-20 feet.
Mesce remembers the woman yelling “Stop!” between guttural screams as the truck rolled forward.
“When he came to a stop, she somehow untangled from the wheels,” Mesce said.
The woman’s legs were bleeding profusely and she had severe lacerations, but she was “surprisingly calm,” Mesce said. He assumed she was in shock. Doctors would later determine that a large amount of skin and muscle were torn from her leg, and that the truck broke bones in her pelvis, legs and feet.
A campus ambulance arrived within 90 seconds and the student EMTs stabilized her until Chicago Fire Department personnel arrived and transported her to Stroger Hospital.
About two weeks later, Mesce was able to visit the woman in the hospital. She had gone through multiple surgeries and needs more. She thanked him for saving her life, as did her parents, who cried and hugged the officer during his visit to the hospital. They also called him a hero, he explained.
“I don’t think I did anything overly courageous,” Mesce said.
He believes he did what any law enforcement officer or first responder would have done.
“You see someone screaming for help, you do what you can to help them,” Mesce said.
CPR by Park Ridge officer revives overdosing man
Park Ridge recognized one of its own last month when Chief Frank Kaminski awarded the police department’s Life Saving Award and Medal to Officer Jeff Koller.
Koller was on patrol the evening of April 30 when a call came in of a possible overdose. Koller arrived to find a 21-year-old man unresponsive in the passenger seat of a vehicle. The driver told Koller the man had overdosed on heroin, Kaminski told those in attendance at the Park Ridge City Council meeting where the award was presented.
“He had been unresponsive for 10 minutes, that’s a long time,” Kaminski said. “(Koller) quickly removed the subject from the vehicle, put the person on the parkway … noticed he wasn’t breathing. (Koller) immediately began CPR.”
Koller also had radioed for medical personnel, and the fire department arrived a short time later to take to the man to the hospital for further treatment. The man survived, Kaminski reported.
“You talk about people being heroes. Someone like this is a hero. I can’t tell you how proud I am of Jeff,” Kaminski shared.
Koller’s wife, son and other family joined in the moment, with his wife pinning his new medal on him as part of the ceremony.
Kaminski also used the moment, which came shortly after the death of Fox Lake Sergeant Joe Gliniewicz, to reflect on the idea of all the importance of highlighting the positive work being done by police in Park Ridge, as well as around the country. He also mentioned Koller is the latest Park Ridge officer to make the ultimate save in the line of duty.
“This department has saved more lives of people than I had at my previous agency,” Kaminski, Park Ridge’s chief since 2009, said.
Aurora officer recognized for bridge save
Aurora Officer Ronald McNeff earned Employee of the Month honors in August after handling a series of high-profile calls, culminating in the rescue of a woman who threatened to jump off a bridge.
McNeff, who started with the department in June 2012, responded to a call of a suicidal woman on the High Street Bridge. The woman began to run when McNeff approached and then tried to climb over the bridge railing. McNeff then bear-hugged the woman and pulled her away from the railing.
Department officials said the move effectively saved the woman’s life. She reportedly was very distraught and repeatedly made suicidal statements to a sergeant who arrived on scene. If not for McNeff’s quick actions, the woman likely would have succeeded in the suicide attempt, according to officials.
Earlier in his shift, McNeff helped investigators handling an attempted child abduction case and, after the bridge incident, McNeff was the first officer on scene to perform CPR on an 18-month-old child who was pulled from a backyard pool.
“In these instances, Officer McNeff’s actions epitomize the mission of the Aurora Police Department and underscore his dedication to the people of Aurora,” Chief Greg Thomas said in a statement.