At 6 feet 8 inches, Anne Arundel County Police Cpl. Michael Harper is an imposing presence. But when he gets near water, all bets are off.
In February last year, Harper was on patrol in the Cape St. Claire area when he got a call that a 16-year-old boy was trapped on a piece of ice and floating toward the Chesapeake Bay. With the 911 dispatcher and others on the shore urging him against it, Harper jumped into a nearby canoe and set out into the Little Magothy River to rescue the boy.
"It wouldn't have been a pretty thing had I fallen out - I'm not the best swimmer in the world, and you can imagine, with boots, ballistic vest and a gun belt, it's not exactly good swimming attire," said Harper, 41, of Essex, who said he has ventured into his backyard pool probably three times in 10 years. "But I didn't have falling on my mind."
Harper, a 10-year veteran, was among several county police officers honored this month for their heroic efforts and hard work in 2007 at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, at the department's annual awards banquet.
He admitted that he was a bit embarrassed when Police Chief Col. James Teare Sr. deviated from the script and told the crowd about Harper's lack of swimming ability. "I had no idea he was going to tell everybody in the world," Harper said, laughing.
But the story helped underscore Harper's quick thinking. He could tell that the boy was becoming submerged in the water and that there wasn't enough time to wait for the Fire Department's rescue boat. Using his body weight, he slammed the canoe down on the ice, chipping away pieces so he could reach the boy.
Once brought back to the shore, the teen was checked by fire officials and released to his mother with no injuries.
Other award winners included:
*Cpl. Gregory Spriggs, who rescued an 89-year-old woman from a blaze at her Admiral Heights home March 8. The woman was on fire, and Spriggs advanced through the intense heat, using blankets to extinguish the flames on her. He then attempted to pull her husband out of the home, but it was too late. The woman died from her third-degree burns about a day later.
*Four officers who chased a bank robbery suspect in Severna Park on March 28. Cpl. Doyle Holquist, who was shot and wounded as he pursued the suspect, received the Purple Heart award. Lt. Norman Milligan, former Officer Kevin Gattie and Cpl. Brian Malar were also recognized for their efforts.
*Seven officers - Cpls. Ronald Breeden, Hugo Cardenas, Eric Gennett, Thomas M. Trott and Timothy Schultz, and Sgts. Daniel Rodriguez and Jeffrey Fratantuono - who executed a search warrant at the Lothian home of a shooting suspect. The officers had to cover 200 yards of open property to get to the residence, where they were met by several aggressive pit bulls. Once inside, the suspect pointed a long rifle at the officers and fired one shot. Schultz returned fire, killing the suspect.
*Six citizens who aided police. They included Mary Bohlman and Michael Dihmes, who assisted with the apprehension of four bank robbery suspects after slipping out of the bank while it was being robbed and reporting the suspects' license plate numbers; David Kennedy, who helped a young woman who had been raped at a Linthicum light rail stop; and Michael Hayes, who chased, disarmed and restrained a knife-wielding burglary suspect until police could arrive.
Officers of the year for their respective departments were Cpl. Nicholas DiPietro, Northern District; Cpl. Dennis Stackewicz, Western District; Officer Matthew Wires, Eastern District; Cpl. Keith Hoffman, Southern District; Detective Tracy Morgan, criminal investigations division; Cpl. Mark Fraser, special operations section; and Cpl. Michael Krok, special services division.
The Chief's Award for Job Excellence, picked by Teare, went to Lt. Col. David Pressley, Capts. Thomas Rzepkowski, Jerard Flemings and Thomas Wilson, and Lts. Fred Plitt and Randall Jones.