The Bronze Star is awarded for saving a life without placing oneself in peril. The employee shall have used proper training and tactics in a professional manner to save, or clearly contribute to saving, the life of another person.
Bronze Star Recipients:
Donald “Ronnie” Gibbens, Correctional Counselor, Wasco State Prison
While picking up dinner with his wife one night in Bakersfield, Correctional Counselor Gibbens was first on scene to a traffic collision where a pedestrian and her dog had been hit by an SUV.
Counselor Gibbens called 9-1-1 and immediately administered CPR to the 65-year-old woman until Emergency Medical Services arrived.
Counselor Gibbens and his wife also found the woman’s dog nearby, who had also been injured. They gave the dog to the responding officers to give to her family.
Despite Counselor Gibbens’ courageous attempt to save the woman’s life and the life of her dog, unfortunately both succumbed to their injuries.
Jimmy Rubio, Correctional Officer, Duel Vocational Institution
One Friday morning in January 2021, Officer Rubio was heading home from working first watch, when he happened upon an accident involving a motorcycle and two vehicles.
He stopped to offer assistance and was informed the motorcycle rider had been thrown into a field and witnesses were unaware of his condition or location.
The rider was in bad shape. His helmet had flown off from the force of impact and he had severe injuries to his hand and leg.
Officer Rubio applied pressure to the wounds on the leg and fashioned a tourniquet from supplies from his own vehicle.
Through Officer Rubio’s training and efforts, he kept the victim conscious until medical personnel could respond. Once they arrived, he helped cut off the victim’s clothes and assisted with putting him on the gurney.
The motorcyclist was transported to a hospital and survived the crash.
Chad Greenwood, Special Agent, Fugitive Apprehension Team, Office of Correctional Safety
On July 5, 2021, Agent Greenwood was on his way to the gym when he came upon a recent crash. A 17-year-old driver had crashed into a semi parked on the side of the road.
Agent Greenwood and other bystanders stopped to assist the driver of the vehicle. While they tried to open the doors, the car caught fire with the driver still pinned inside.
Agent Greenwood and other bystanders grabbed buckets from a nearby house and doused the flames until the fire department arrived.
The fire department extinguished the fire and removed the driver from the vehicle.
The driver was injured and burned in the crash, but ultimately survived.
Manuel Carrera, Correctional Officer, Sierra Conservation Center
While driving home one June evening last year from Sierra Conservation Center, Officer Carrera spotted a large cloud of dirt on the side of the road directly in front of him. He came to an abrupt stop when he saw a black SUV had crashed head-on into a tree just off the roadway.
The first person on scene, Officer Carrera rushed to the crash site. As he approached the vehicle, he met a woman behind the wheel who was having difficulty staying conscious.
He opened the driver’s door and asked her if he could help her out, but she was incoherent. As he assessed the situation further, he smelled fire and smoke coming from the engine compartment area.
To prevent further injury due to fire, he helped the woman out of the car, and took her a safe distance away from the crash site in another driver’s vehicle.
By that time, other drivers were stopping, including SCC Correctional Officer R. Lopez-Aguilar, who assisted in making the scene safe.
Once emergency services had been called, he notified SCC to send its fire department to the scene. He stayed on scene until relieved by CHP officers, CAL FIRE, and ambulance personnel.
Cliff King, Correctional Officer, Mule Creek State Prison
In May 2021, Officer King was having what began as a normal day off, until he suddenly heard screaming coming from the backyard of his next door neighbors’ home.
King peered over the fence they shared and saw an unconscious 18-month-old and two parents in great distress. He learned the parents had found the child face-down in their pool.
King’s training and instincts immediately kicked in. He jumped over the fence and took control of the situation, masterfully rendering CPR until emergency services arrived on the scene. These actions were instrumental in saving the life of the child.
This act was no surprise to King’s peers, who credit him as being an outstanding employee who is always helpful and positive.
Robert Wagner, Parole Agent III, Fontana Parole Unit
In October 2021, Agent Wagner found himself in the right place at the right time for two separate incidents.
The first took place on October 13, 2021. While heading home from work after completing his duties for the day, Agent Wagner saw a toddler walking alone in the middle of a busy street.
He turned his hazard lights on, exited the vehicle and took the toddler into his possession. He quickly learned the child had wandered unnoticed from a nearby residence.
He was able to safely reunite the toddler with the mother and made notifications to the proper investigating agencies.
The second took place on October 20, 2021. While heading into work for the day, he noticed a woman performing CPR on a male at the Seccombe Lake Recreation Area. Agent Wagner pulled over and ran to help.
The man was not breathing but based on his training and experience, Agent Wagner recognized the man had signs of a possible drug overdose. The woman on the scene verified this was the case.
Wagner promptly administered his CDCR-issued NARCAN spray, reviving the man. Emergency medical services arrived on the scene shortly after.
Directly following saving a man’s life, Agent Wagner went straight into work and resumed his duties.
Agent Wagner has served the department since 2011 – starting as a Correctional Officer and eventually transitioning to parole operations in 2019.
Since his shift to parole, he has quickly promoted to Parole Agent III, serving San Bernardino County.
Jason Ortiz, Emergency Services Coordinator, Office of Correctional Safety
Driving home from work one morning in May 2021, Jason Ortiz observed a cloud of dust and debris emerging from the shoulder of the highway.
As he drove closer to the area, he came upon a severely damaged vehicle that had downed a light pole and crashed into a tree. Ortiz pulled over to provide aid.
He noticed a woman had been ejected from the vehicle and was making her way back to the crash site. Miraculously, she had only minor injuries.
A male passenger was attempting to exit the vehicle, but he had visible leg injuries. Ortiz helped him and then prompted him to take a seat and stay calm.
The driver, however, was pinned in the vehicle and had sustained serious injuries. Ortiz could not safely extract him, so he ensured he stayed conscious and put pressure on certain areas of his body to address bleeding.
Ortiz brought order to the scene, applied first aid and kept victims calm until emergency services arrived.
Moises Sandoval, Correctional Counselor, Division of Adult Institutions, Classification Services Unit
On November 29, 2021, Sandoval became alarmed when he saw a vehicle hurriedly pull up to his neighbor’s property.
Soon after, his neighbor exited the vehicle in a panic, rushing to the passenger side and attempting to pull an unconscious person out.
Sandoval recognized this was a medical emergency and rushed to assist. He immediately began administering CPR on the victim, and did not stop until additional emergency services arrived.
Thanks to Sandoval tapping into his training and performing CPR so quickly and diligently, the victim survived.
Leo Wanner, Correctional Lieutenant/Security Audits Auditor, Office of Audits and Court Compliance
On November 27, 2021, Lieutenant Wanner was traveling through remote Arizona while coming home from visiting family in Texas when he came across the scene of a large car crash.
Without hesitation, Lt. Wanner pulled over to assist.
He learned the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, going off the road and flipping the vehicle several times. Several passengers had been ejected from the vehicle and several more were still in the vehicle, unconscious and badly injured.
Lt. Wanner assessed the situation, providing needed first aid until additional first responders arrived. He also helped provide guidance to a helicopter reporting to the scene, helping them locate the scene and safely land.
Lt. Wanner’s quick actions and ability to facilitate important information in a time of great distress were key in this situation.
Alex Urtez, Parole Agent I, Compton GPS-Harbor District
On November 17, 2021, Parole Agent Urtez received notification the GPS device assigned to a parolee in Long Beach was in a “no motion” status and the parolee was not responding from inside his residence.
Upon arrival, Urtez knocked on the parolee’s door in a welfare check but did not receive a response.
He then contacted the Long Beach Police Department for additional responders.
Urtez entered the apartment and discovered the parolee laying on his bed with a faint pulse, but unresponsive.
He tried to revive the parolee but was unsuccessful.
Urtez then administered NARCAN nasal spray, to which he remained unresponsive.
Eventually paramedics arrived and the parolee was transported to a nearby medical center. He has since made a full recovery.
Had it not been for Urtez’s actions in a crisis situation, clear thinking, and immediate response, a life could have been lost.
Bryan Arnold, Correctional Lieutenant, Sierra Conservation Center
Daron Hitchcock, Correctional Officer, Sierra Conservation Center
Caleb Severns, Correctional Officer, Sierra Conservation Center
Kari McClure, Licensed Vocational Nurse, Sierra Conservation Center
On December 9, 2021, all were headed to work at Sierra Conservation Center in the rainy early morning hours when they came upon a head-on accident on Highway 108/120 East.
One vehicle, a pickup truck, was down in a steep embankment and the other was mangled with major damage, smoking and blocking the eastbound lane.
The first on the scene were Correctional Officers Richard Lance and Paul King. Arnold, Hitchcock, Stevens and McClure then arrived and immediately started helping by assessing the accident site.
Officer King was able to get the injured driver from the vehicle down the embankment and he and Lt. Arnold treated his injuries.
Officer Lance responded to the driver in the other vehicle who was trapped. He was able to move the air bags out of the way and pulled the steering wheel away from the victim making it easier for him to breathe. Arnold, Hitchcock, Stevens and McClure helped Officers Lance and King assess and monitor the victims’ injuries and stabilized them until local first responders arrived.
When fire and other emergency vehicles arrived on the scene, CDCR staff relayed detailed information to them on the victims’ status and assisted in extracting the victim.
Jaws of Life were used to pry open one of the vehicles so the victim could be extricated. Both victims were rushed to the closest trauma hospital 40 minutes away. Unfortunately the driver who had been trapped passed away from his injuries.
The response from all SCC staff involved was above and beyond the normal demands of correctional service and of great benefit to the community.
Rodney Speight, Correctional Lieutenant, California State Prison, Solano
While driving in South Lake Tahoe on May 9, 2021, Lt. Speight observed a vehicle veer out of its lane and into oncoming traffic, crashing through the guardrail and rolling over multiple times, ejecting the driver.
He quickly put on his hazard lights and made a U-turn, pulling off onto the shoulder. He observed an adult female had been ejected from the vehicle and was lying face-down in the dirt.
He noticed she was breathing but had a compound fracture of her left ankle and a large bruise on the left side of her forehead and eye.
He and another passerby placed her in a position so she could better breathe. Others stopped to lend assistance and noticed an infant in the vehicle and pulled her out. Emergency medical services arrived on the scene and airlifted both driver and infant to the nearest trauma center.
Lt. Speight gave a report to CHP officers. His quick, decisive actions brought a dangerous situation under control.
Andres Banuelos, Correctional Captain, California Institution for Men
Captain Banuelos was exiting the institution on October 22, 2021, when he noticed a car pulled over on the wrong side of the curb.
He saw a woman exit the vehicle and start walking on the road against traffic.
When he approached the woman and asked if he could help her, she put her arms around him and hugged him and she said, “I’m ready to go, God is good and I’m ready.”
She was holding a teddy bear and a note with money around it.
She then darted into the street against traffic with an 18-wheeler bearing down on her.
Captain Banuelos grabbed her and carried her to the sidewalk. He then called the Watch Commander and requested a Code 1 response with 911 assistance.
Chino police arrived and took her into custody for further observation. Captain Banuelos’ actions saved her life that day.
Brian Clark, Correctional Officer, California Medical Facility
On April 14, 2021, at around 8 p.m., Officer Clark’s son came home and told his father a female neighbor was laying in the middle of the street in distress. Father and son ran to her aid. She was unresponsive and not breathing. Officer Clark and his wife immediately called 9-1-1 and he began performing CPR. Officer Clark continued CPR until Vacaville paramedics arrived and took over life-saving measures for the woman.
Later that evening, Vacaville Police came to Officer Clark’s home and told him the neighbor eventually regained a pulse and survived. Officer Clark’s actions saved his neighbor’s life that day.
Jacob Fillmore, Correctional Sergeant, Folsom State Prison
Kevin Ginni, Correctional Officer, Folsom State Prison
Serg Kapanzhi, Correctional Officer, Folsom State Prison
Don Breakey, Correctional Officer, Folsom State Prison
Daniel Dela Cruz, Correctional Officer, Folsom State Prison
Vance Wheatley, Correctional Officer, Folsom State Prison
On May 24, 2021, at Folsom State Prison, Correctional Officer Don Breakey was attempting to contact one of the prison’s perimeter tower officers via telephone but was unable to get an answer.
Becoming concerned for the welfare of the officer, he requested two officers who were signing in for their shift to go to the tower to check on the officer. Officers Kevin Ginni and Daniel Dela Cruz immediately headed to the tower.
Since Officer Breakey was busy operating his gate, he called another tower officer, Vance Wheatley, and told him to keep trying to contact the tower officer via telephone while Officers Ginni and Dela Cruz were headed to the tower.
Officer Wheatley was unable to contact the tower officer on the phone and became concerned, so he notified the Folsom Prison Fire Department via telephone advising them of the situation.
Officers Dela Cruz and Ginni arrived and climbed the tower ladder. Through the glass window of the tower hatch door, they could see the officer was laying on the floor unconscious. Officers Ginni and Dela Cruz were unable to gain entry to the tower as the hatch door was locked.
Outside Patrol Correctional Sergeant Jake Fillmore retrieved the emergency entry Tower Key from Tower #1 Officer Serg Kapanzhi and reported immediately to the tower of the officer having the medical emergency.
Sergeant Fillmore, Officer Ginni and Officer Dela Cruz rendered first aid as soon as they gained entry to the tower and until the Folsom Prison Fire Department arrived.
Because of all of their heroic actions that day, the officer was able to return to work two days later.
Sergeant Fillmore, who was crucial in getting the officer help, has since passed away after a courageous fight with cancer and will be receiving this award posthumous. Thank you for your service, Sergeant Fillmore.
Aaron Leon, Correctional Officer, Wasco State Prison
On March 27, 2021, Correctional Officer Aaron Leon responded to an emergency situation near the roadside of his residence in which a vehicle was involved in a rollover accident.
Recognizing the critical situation, Officer Leon immediately responded to the accident to assist the occupant of the vehicle.
While responding to the accident Officer Leon made contact with 911 to call for emergency medical response.
Once Officer Leon responded on scene he observed someone still inside the vehicle and proceeded to break out the back window to assist the injured person.
Officer Leon removed the occupant from the vehicle and proceeded to provide first-aid until emergency medical personnel arrived.
The vehicle occupant was taken to the hospital and eventually made a full recovery. There’s no question Officer Leon’s direct and quick response was instrumental in this happy ending.
Cesar Quiroz, Stationary Engineer, Avenal State Prison
On July 9, 2021, Stationary Engineer Cesar Quiroz demonstrated swift and heroic actions in saving the life of a fellow stationary engineer Kevin Sizemore.
Upon arrival to his post in the early morning, Mr. Quiroz observed Mr. Sizemore in an office slumped over in a chair, unresponsive, and did not appear to be breathing.
Mr. Quiroz immediately entered the office and placed Mr. Sizemore on the ground into a recovery position, announced a medical emergency over the institution’s response system and requested medical personnel to his location.
Due to Mr. Quiroz’s immediate actions and call for assistance, Mr. Sizemore survived and recovered from this incident.
Mr. Quiroz’s selfless act reflects positively on himself and is truly an example for others to follow.
Heriberto Mora, Correctional Lieutenant, Ironwood State Prison
Mayra Mora, Registered Nurse, Ironwood State Prison
John Bradley, Correctional Sergeant, Ironwood State Prison
On February 4, 2021, Lieutenant Heriberto Mora and his wife, Registered Nurse Mayra Mora, were well into their 90-minute commute to work at Ironwood State Prison when they saw a large plume of dirt billowing in the air just off the westbound lanes opposite of them.
Two children and two adults were involved in a rollover accident along Interstate 10, East of Dillion Road in Coachella. The crash involved an F-250 pickup and trailer hauling two off-road vehicles.
As trained emergency first responders, the Moras quickly pulled their vehicle over to the shoulder and ran across the interstate to the crash site. They did not see exactly what had happened, but as they arrived on scene they both knew the accident was serious.
They both began providing aid to the occupants of the mangled pickup truck that had come to rest along the side of Interstate 10 in a ditch.
A girl about 2-3 years old was outside of the truck. Not knowing if she had been ejected or taken out, Lieutenant Mora attended to and calmed the child.
The adult male driver had a laceration to his head and was bleeding profusely. Registered Nurse Mora took Lieutenant Mora’s sweater and treated the driver’s wound.
Registered Nurse Mora then attended to a woman who was ejected into the brush adjacent to the vehicle, keeping her stationary as they were not sure if she had internal or neck injuries.
Ironwood State Prison Sergeant John Bradley also stopped to help the victims and assisted Lieutenant Mora in searching the vehicle for other passengers when they noticed an infant still in a car seat.
Sergeant Bradley reached through the vehicle’s broken rear passenger window and was able to undo the harness of the car seat and remove the baby from the vehicle. The baby was responsive and did not appear to be injured. Sergeant Bradley held and monitored the baby until additional emergency personnel arrived and took over the scene.
Spencer Leighton, Correctional Officer/Camp Officer, retired
On June 28, 2021, at approximately 8 p.m., Correctional Officer Leighton was assigned to security coverage to Strike Team 9221G consisting of 24 incarcerated persons, three fire captains, and two correctional officers for the Lava Fire in Siskiyou County.
While staging in a large turnout along the side of the road and waiting for a line assignment, Officer Leighton noticed a white Dodge pickup pull up to the blockade device that was established to prevent the public from driving into the fire area.
The blockade device was approximately 75 yards away from the waiting strike team.
Officer Leighton quickly observed law enforcement officers motion for the truck to drive in a different direction and not turn down the blocked road. He noticed the verbal commands by the officers became more intense as the pickup truck continued to drive toward the group.
Officer Leighton immediately ordered all of the crew members outside of the Emergency Crew Transport Vehicle to get behind the CDCR utility vehicle as the other law enforcement officers drew their weapons and began to discharge live rounds at the charging vehicle.
As the law enforcement officers continued to fire at the vehicle, Officer Leighton un-holstered his own weapon, coming to a low and ready position, and moved to a covered position, ensuring all fire crew members were safe and accounted for.
It was later determined the driver of the pickup was deceased as a result of the exchange in gunfire with law enforcement officers.
Due to Officer Leighton’s quick actions and instructions, all fire crew members were safely positioned behind the emergency vehicles and reported no injuries. His quick action was heroic and demonstrated an exemplary measure of his character as a correctional officer.