Five local officers have been honored for their actions during a high-speed chase that resulted in the death of a Payson man last July.
Payson Police Sgt. Mike Openshaw, Payson Police Officer Bill Wright, Utah County Sheriff's Department Deputy Pete Bell, Spanish Fork Police Officer Steve Adams and Salem Police Officer James Bailey were recently awarded with the Police Medal of Valor by their department heads.Three levels of medals are given for distinguished service as law enforcement officials: the Medal of Merit, the Medal of Valor and the Medal of Honor, which is usually given to an officer's widow or family. The Medal of Valor is given to officers who endanger their lives in the pursuit of their duties and survive the ordeal. The officers were nominated for the award by Springville Police Chief Leland Bowers, who was in charge of the law-enforcement effort that day.
The officers were called into action at approximately 1 a.m. July 12 to reports of a chase in progress. Officers at the Mountain Springs truck stop off the Springville I-15 exit noticed a car backing out of a parking spot in an erratic manner.
Springville officers attempted to signal the men down, but the car, driven by Dennis W. Peterson, accelerated onto southbound I-15. The car then left the freeway at Spanish Fork, heading west toward Lake Shore at high speed, according to Bowers.
The other officers then joined the chase. The vehicle failed to negotiate a turn in Salem, hitting the bridge abutment on the Salem Canal Bridge and flipping into the canal upside down.
Though the canal water was swiftly moving and murky, officers immediately entered the canal to pull out passengers, Julian C. Begaye, 21, Provo, and Kip Parkins, 25, Nephi. The two men were treated for injuries at Payson's Mountain View Hospital and then booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of public intoxication.
However, despite the officers' efforts, they were unable to extricate Peterson, 36, until rescue crews arrived. He was declared dead at the scene. It was later determined that Peterson drowned in the vehicle.
The officers were also commended by their respective city councils, as well as Bowers, who said the officers took heroic action during the chase and rescue and have an "unselfish devotion to duty. It was noticed that they willingly risked their own lives to rescue those trapped in the wreckage."
Payson Police Chief James Box, who awarded his two officers this month, said the five men went "far beyond the expected and placed their own lives in danger while performing their duties as police officers."