NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Several employees and volunteers were recognized Tuesday during the annual Nassau County Sheriff's Office awards ceremony.
In front of a packed house at the Sheriff's Office headquarters, more than a dozen men and women received awards for their service to the community, including several who made life-saving decisions.
Deputy of the Year Mark Hunter was honored for his heroism after he made several trips into a burning home to rescue a woman in Yulee. She died at the hospital but Hunter gave her a fighting chance and was presented the Medal of Valor Award.
Hunter and Deputy James Ennis also received the life-saving award after their quick response revived a man who stopped breathing. They performed CPR and used an AED until EMS arrived.
Detective David Douglas was named Investigator of the Year after recovering more than $100,000 worth of stolen property. He also caught a suspect posing as a contractor who investigators said was scheming neighbors out of thousands of dollars.
New deputies, like Amy Wiggins, were also sworn in during the ceremony.
"I can't wait to get on the street and I want to get one of those awards one day,” Wiggins said. “I want to help someone and know that I saved someone's life before mine's over."
The former stay-at-home mom of two said she has always wanted to be a deputy and help people in her community.
And the Sheriff's Office could use the help.
Calls for service continues to grow as new residential developments and businesses are being built at a quick pace. Less than a mile from the Sheriff's Office, hundreds of new homes are taking shape in the Wildlight community.
Sheriff Bill Leeper said the department is about 20 deputies short of what's needed to accommodate growth. He said a plan is already in place to help fill that void over the next few years.
"I attend growth and planning meetings with the county to see what development is on the radar. Try to plan ahead and work on a five-year plan to make sure we keep up with this growth,” Leeper said. “It's very expensive to hire that many at one time, so we try to incrementally go up until we get to where we need to be."
At least four patrol deputies like Wiggins will be hired each year to help expand the department.
More on the award winners:
- Volunteer of the Year – Dr. Bill Brumund
Brummund began as a volunteer at the Emergency Operations Center with the ARES ham radio group as a county watch volunteer. He attended NCSO’s Citizen Law Enforcement Academy to learn more about the sheriff’s office. He volunteered with NCSO’s Administrative Services Division, serving as a photographer for community and agency events to update the agency’s website. He also used his expertise as a civil engineer in assisting in the design of NCSO’s new gun range, which will be located at the Nassau County Public Safety Training Complex.
- Chaplain of the Year – Pastor Ted Heglund
Heglund is currently the Senior Pastor of First Alliance Church of Hilliard. He has been a volunteer chaplain with NCSO for the past 13 years. Pastor Heglund spends many Monday mornings leading devotion for agency employees and also assists in their personal time of need. He is also called out to tragic scenes or situations where there may be a death in the family or some other type of crisis. He also participated in visiting the sick at home or at the hospital.
- Civilian Employee of the Year – Kathy Hall
Hall has been employed with NCSO for 18 years. Last year, she was transferred from payroll clerk in the Finance Division to oversee NCSO’s Human Resource Department. She plans and organizes the agency’s in-house ceremonies and also volunteers with our community events and fundraisers for charity.
- Communications Officer of the Year – Chelsea Beazley
Beazley displays true professionalism and compassion when talking with citizens in our community on the numerous 911 emergency & non-emergency calls he receives each day. During 2018 she assisted deputies in locating a female who was attempting suicide, which ultimately saved the person’s life. She consistently displays exceptional performance, attitude, and interpersonal skills that bring credit to NCSO and the Communications Center.
- Detention Deputy of the Year – Deputy Caleb Osborne
Osborne goes above and beyond his required duties on numerous occasions. His positive attitude is contagious and lends for a good working environment. He is always willing to volunteer on projects when needed. Osborne was called to the cell of an inmate who was bleeding profusely from the neck and wrist area as a result of an attempted suicide. The man apparently cut an artery from a disposable razor he was given to shave with. Quickly assessing the situation, Osborne made a tourniquet from a sheet and his flashlight in order to stop the severe bleeding until Nassau County Fire/Rescue could arrive. NCFR personnel who arrived and transported the inmate to the hospital stated that as a result of Osborne’s quick actions, the man’s life was saved. Osborne was also given a Life-Saving Award.
- Deputy of the Year – Deputy Mark Hunter
Hunter responded to report of a burning house fire in Yulee. When Hunter arrived he was advised by neighbors that someone may still be inside the burning building. As Nassau County Fire Department was responding, Hunter took it upon himself to enter the residence at great risk to his own safety in order to search for anyone inside. He entered the fire- and smoke-filled structure several times as he had to come outside for fresh air searching room-by-room. He eventually found an unresponsive female on the kitchen floor and dragged her out onto the front porch where Nassau County Fire/Rescue, who had just arrived, provided medical attention before transporting her to the hospital. Although the woman did not survive, Hunter showed extreme courage in trying to save a life, even though his own personal safety was in jeopardy. Hunter was also presented the Medal of Valor Award.
- Investigator of the Year – Detective David Douglas
Douglas investigated and arrested a suspect for exploitation of an elderly female, who was swindled out of over $3,600. He investigated a theft case and arrested the suspect who was also pawning the items at several local pawn shops worth several thousand dollars. He recovered stolen property valued at over $115,000.00, which was located as far away as Miami. He arrested a suspect who was posing as a contractor installing flooring in homes around our area. The suspect was taking money for services that he never completed, which amounted to thousands of dollars. Douglas actually posed as a customer in order to catch him.
- Supervisor of the Year – Cpl. Jonathan McCracken
McCracken served as his squad’s only first-line supervisor for the last six months of 2018, not only as a corporal but also as acting sergeant. He serves on the corrections K-9 team and takes care of K-9 Loki, who is being trained as a tracking dog. He also volunteers to attend career fairs at local schools and conducts safety presentations. During Hurricane Michael, McCracken volunteered to stay at the jail to make sure NCSO employees and jail inmates were taken care of during the approach of the storm.
- Life-Saving Awards were given to Deputy James Ennis and Deputy Mark Hunter for their life-saving efforts when they responded to Yulee for an unresponsive man who was not breathing. As Ennis began performing CPR on the man, Hunter retrieved his AED from his patrol car and placed the man on the machine. They continued CPR until Nassau County Fire/Rescue arrived and transported him to the hospital. As a result of the quick actions of Ennis and Hunter, the man made a full recovery and is still alive.