Officers receive standing ovation: Commendations awarded by Soldotna City Council

Posted: Friday, December 12, 2008

In the words of one resident, tragedies like the shooting spree at Central Peninsula Hospital the day before Thanksgiving don't happen in small towns like Soldotna, and when they occur in big cities, they're forgotten soon after the event.

That's not the case in Soldotna.

At the city council meeting Wednesday, two weeks after the incident, several members of Soldotna's police department were commended for their courage and exemplary service in responding to reports of the shooting that left one hospital director and the gunman dead and one director critically wounded.

The day after being fired, Joseph Marchetti returned to the hospital armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol, and shot his former bosses.

Hospital Information Services Director Mike Webb, 55, was killed and Imaging Director Margaret Stroup, 57, was shot in the stomach and is recovering in an Anchorage hospital.

The 48-year-old gunman was shot and killed following a standoff with Soldotna Police and Alaska State Troopers in the hospital parking lot after the shooting spree inside CPH.

Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche, on Wednesday, presented Commendations of Valor to senior Officer Johnny Whitehead and Officer Tony Garcia, and a Commendation of Exemplary Performance to Officer Victor Dillon. Police Sgt. Robbie Quelland, who could not attend Wednesday's ceremony, will be honored at a later date.

Whitehead, according to the mayor, was the first officer to arrive at the hospital, and "alone, with his rifle at ready, did without hesitation enter the hospital at the Emergency Room entrance to seek out and subdue the perpetrator."

"With assistance only from hospital security employee James T. Randolph, he did make his way toward the main entrance of the hospital until encountering an unresponsive victim of the gunman," Micciche said.

"Officer Whitehead did provide cover to that wounded victim while summoning medical aid for him from both hospital staff and through radio dispatch.

"When a physician arrived at his location to render aid to the victim, Officer Whitehead did continue to provide cover and security until additional medical aid did arrive when he then directed them to remove the victim and themselves to the safe area of the Emergency Room.

"Once the victim was safely receiving care, and in the company of (Alaska State) Trooper Sgt. (Eugene) Fowler who had by then arrived at his location, Officer Whitehead continued to move through the hallways toward the main entrance of the hospital still seeking the gunman who had invaded the facility.

"When Officer Whitehead learned from dispatch that the hospital doors were locked down, and that the perpetrator had exited the building, he and Sgt. Fowler did exit themselves and took cover in the vicinity of the driveway where the gunman was within their view.

"When the gunman, though still armed with a pistol, put down the rifle and stepped away from it, Officer Whitehead took advantage of the opportunity, and with cover from Sgt. Fowler, did risk his own life to retrieve that weapon away from the gunman's reach where he secured it to reduce further risk of violence," the mayor said.

A story in Wednesday's Peninsula Clarion incorrectly quoted Police Chief John Lucking Jr. as saying police convinced Marchetti to put down the rifle. Officers never established a dialogue with Marchetti.

Micciche also read a Commendation of Valor for Garcia, saying, while covering the actions of the gunman, who was "pacing in agitation and making threats toward the police," Garcia was concerned for the safety of students in nearby schools and telephoned Soldotna High School to assure the school was in lockdown.

Dillon was cited by the mayor for responding to the hospital after hearing of the events, even though he was off duty at the time, and brought specialized equipment from the police station for "deployment at the incident."

Micciche said he was honored to be given the opportunity to recognize the actions of Soldotna police "in a time of crisis and danger."

He also said, while the city is recognizing its own officers at this time, he is certain the "acts of courage, bravery and sacrifice" of others in the city, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the state will be made known.

"The heroes recognized later will include our friends and neighbors including troopers, Central Peninsula Hospital admin. and medical staff, civilians, Soldotna streets and maintenance personnel, (Central Emergency Services) personnel, dispatch and of course Mr. Webb himself," Micciche said.

After the commendations were read and plaques were presented to the three officers, all in the packed council chambers rose to give a standing ovation to the Soldotna Police Department.

Councilman Shane Horan told the council and police that CPGH, Inc. Board President Tom Boedeker would have attended the ceremony to add his thanks to the officers, but he had a death in his family and was out of town.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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