By Raiza Giorgi

On a seemingly normal afternoon, David Welby was driving through Buellton and decided to take the “back way,” going up McMurray Road and crossing the freeway to the Avenue of Flags. As he made the turn and started over the overpass, he noticed a woman sitting on the bridge.

“It was like in slow motion and I just had this feeling she wasn’t just taking a break. I saw her swing a leg over the ledge and my heart stopped. I didn’t even think, I slammed my truck in park and ran out. I was hoping I was close enough, and in seconds her other leg went over and I have never ran so fast in my life,” Welby said.

The woman was just about to leap off the overpass when Welby grabbed her and pulled her back onto the bridge. He held her as she was screaming and crying.

“I knew if I let her go she would try again, so I just bear hugged her and wouldn’t let go. People were just passing us looking, and no one stopped until Dave Henry did. He helped hold her down so I could call authorities and they could evaluate her,” he said.

For his quick response, Welby received an Exceptional Civilian Award April 12 at the county Sheriff’s Department’s Recognition Awards Program and Luncheon at Earl’s Place at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.

Other award recipients included many who were recognized for their responses during the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flows. In fact, a Major Incident Commendation bar was given to all sheriff’s employees who were involved in handling the two disasters.

Sheriff Bill Brown said it was important to recognize those who responded to these twin disasters.

“The 1/9 Debris Flow, caused by the Thomas Fire, was the greatest natural disaster in the history of Santa Barbara County. The sustained nature of the rescue and recovery efforts, coming as they did on the heels of the fire, tested our people as never before,” Brown said. “The men and women of the Sheriff’s Office rose to the occasion. It is fitting that everyone involved in these operations – first responders and those who directly supported them alike – receive special recognition for an extraordinary team effort.”

This is only the second time the Sheriff’s Office has awarded the unique enameled commendation bar to all employees involved in a critical incident. The other time was after the Isla Vista mass murders in 2014.

The Sheriff’s Medal of Valor was presented to six members of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff/Fire Air Support Unit for their heroic actions in response to the debris flow. The men – a sheriff’s deputy pilot and five members of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, were crew members of two Huey helicopters that flew in extremely hazardous conditions on the morning of the disaster.

The six recipients were Sheriff’s Special Duty Deputy and Pilot George Deluca, Santa Barbara County Fire Pilot Matthew Udkow, Santa Barbara County Fire Captains Glen Dupont and Thomas Wade, and Santa Barbara County Firefighter/Paramedics Bruce Meyers and Brice Wible.

The Sheriff’s Unit Citation, which recognizes a unit for outstanding service resulting from a team effort, was given this year to the Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Team. In addition to its 13 call-outs in 2018, this highly trained, skilled tactical team was recognized in particular for its work in rescuing and evacuating people in the hours and days that followed the debris flows. SET members worked with Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team members to reach people who were trapped.

A Medal of Courage was presented to newly hired Custody Deputy Zachary Salce, and his girlfriend, Maddison Henslin, received an Exceptional Civilian Award for their courageous actions on the night of Nov. 13, 2018. When two heard the screams of a woman trapped in an apartment fire in Lompoc, Salce kicked open the door and the two crawled under smoke and flames, reached the elderly woman and pulled her out to safety.

The Sheriff’s Medal of Courage was given to Sgt. Brian Dickey for his response on July 21, 2018 to a suicidal man in a motorhome at Jalama Beach Campground. The man had a loaded gun and was threatening to shoot himself. At one point, he had the gun pointed at his head. Sgt. Dickey built a rapport with the man and convinced him to drop his gun and he was detained without incident.

Four more Medals of Courage were given to Acting Sgt. Dan Nelson, Deputies James Furber, Mark Riggar and Michael McNeil for their response to the scene of what ended up being a triple homicide in Orcutt. They entered an Oakhill Estates home after being told by the reporting person there was a person inside covered in blood. They confronted a suspect inside the home armed with a rifle. Their swift and decisive actions led to his containment.

A Distinguished Service Medal was given to former Undersheriff Bernard Melekian for his more than 40-year career in law enforcement and his guidance and leadership during his time at the Sheriff’s Office. “He was a mentor to many of our people and he had a tremendous impact on our agency during his tenure,” said Sheriff Brown.

Long-time Administrative Office Professional Evalee Treen was also awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for her 29 years of service to the Sheriff’s Office and in particular for her work with the Sister Cities Program. In 2003 she developed a law enforcement exchange program between Santa Barbara and Puerto Vallarta. The lives of numerous Mexican police officers have been saved or made safer as a result of the training that has been provided.

A Meritorious Service Medal was given to Lt. Eddie Hseuh for work in developing and providing a comprehensive Crisis Intervention Training program to Sheriff’s Office and other Santa Barbara County law enforcement personnel. He dedicated hundreds of hours to the development of the Behavioral Sciences Unit, which now coordinates the Sheriff’s Office’s response to people suffering from mental health issues.

Retired Sheriff’s Lt. Brad McVay was also given a Meritorious Service Award for the work he did to revamp and streamline contract-city contracts and develop the Contract Law Bureau. The result is a much improved, efficient system that benefits the Sheriff’s Office and the four local cities with which it has contracts for police services.

Custody Deputy Crystal Batterson was recognized with a Meritorious Service Medal for her tireless work in 2018 conducting in-depth jail investigations. In 2018, she wrote more than 30 investigative reports and assisted with many others. One in particular led to the discovery of an inmate with a cell phone inside an Arizona state prison. Her efforts disrupted criminal activity and led to a significant number of seizures of drugs and other contraband.

Sheriff’s Lifesaving Awards were given to Deputies Shae Green and Jessika Rios for stopping a would-be suicide in Santa Maria. A distraught woman had tried to hang her herself and was found unconscious. The deputies quickly cut the rope away from her neck and got the woman the medical and mental help she needed.

Deputy Rios received a second Lifesaving Award for another incident in which she helped save an elderly man who was choking. She took control of the stressful situation and began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation that saved the man’s life.

Sheriff’s Commendations were given to 11 deputies who helped save the lives of unconscious overdose patients by deploying department-issued Naloxone.

Rusty’s Pizza delivery driver Julio Cesar Silva Rodriguez of Santa Barbara received another Exceptional Civilian Award for helping a UCSB police officer who was engaged in an altercation with a suspect in Isla Vista. Rodriguez knocked the combative suspect down and pinned him down so he could be detained by responding officers. His selfless actions helped prevent injury to the officer and the suspect.

An Exceptional Civilian Award was also given to given to Alex Knightly for helping apprehend and detain a suspect in Isla Vista who had challenged people to fight and fought with a deputy. The suspect broke free from the deputy and Knightly ran after him and blocked him from entering a residence. He also helped the deputy restrain the violent suspect until additional officers arrived on scene.

A Certificate of Merit Award was given to the proprietor of the Village Cheese and Wine Shop in Montecito, Patrick Braid, for his generosity during a difficult time. The store was a place of refuge during Montecito’s recent disasters. Braid opened his store, which was located in the Exclusion Zone, and served free sandwiches to first responders, utility repair personnel and cleanup crews. He also served free sandwiches to Montecito residents who returned after evacuation orders were lifted.

Emergency Medical Services Agency CPR Save and Stork awards were presented to dispatchers who provided emergency medical dispatching that helped save a life or deliver a life. Awards were given to Communications Dispatch Supervisor Kari Slone, Dispatchers David Washington, Meredith Piers, Lauren Edie and Gilberto Ayala, and former Emergency Communications Center Call Taker Lucas Kandel.