The 2023 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
Frank Norris, Correctional Counselor I, CSP-Solano
In January 2022, Correctional Counselor Norris was at home with his wife in Elk Grove when they heard a frantic knock at their front door.
By the time Norris answered, no one was there.
He stepped out onto the street, hoping to spot whoever had knocked and heard someone yelling that a man had been shot.
Norris immediately took action, instructing his wife to call 911 and grab towels before rushing off to the scene to help.
Norris had been alerted to a man who had been shot seven times and was in and out of consciousness. He had two wounds in his face, and several more in his legs.
Norris quickly assessed the situation and noted someone had tried to tie a tourniquet on the man’s leg, but it was improperly placed. He reapplied the tourniquet and kept pressure on the man’s injuries until emergency responders arrived.
Meanwhile, Norris’ wife treated a second gunshot victim nearby, a woman.
The man was taken to a nearby hospital, where he underwent surgery. He was placed in a medically induced coma for a week to heal.
Both lives were saved that day due to the Norris’ calm decision-making and urgency.
Richard Jones, Parole Agent II, MCRP Long Beach
Parole Agent Jones was instrumental in helping two people were were badly burned in a fire last year.
Wrapping up a workday one Friday afternoon in April, Agent Jones was talking with Correctional Officer Myron Duncan in the Male Community Reentry Program Long Beach parking lot. That’s when the building across the street erupted in an explosion of fire and sound.
Without hesitation, staff in the MCRP called emergency responders. In the chaos, Agent Jones spotted two men who had been caught in the explosions and were trapped behind a chain-link fence.
They had severe burns covering their bodies and were yelling in agony as they tried to get away from the flames. Agent Jones did not hesitate and made his way to them. He grabbed the fence, pulled it back several feet, and lifted it high as he helped the two injured men crawl out and away from the fire. Agent Jones was joined by Officer Duncan who guided the disoriented men across the street to safety.
Unfortunately, one of the burned victims died from his injuries. The other injured individual spent significant time hospitalized in intensive care.
The heroic actions from Agent Jones kept many out of harm’s way while allowing for emergency personnel to contain the fire.
K-9 officers, ISU, Ironwood, CIM and CRC
- Anthony Fernandez, Correctional Officer/Investigative Services Unit (ISU) K-9, Ironwood State Prison
- Jason Castillo, Correctional Officer/ISU K-9, California Institution for Men
- Christopher Reyes, Correctional Officer/ISU K-9, California Rehabilitation Center
On Sunday, March 6, 2022, Officers Fernandez, Castillo, and Reyes were in their respective vehicles heading to their K-9 academy class. While driving on Highway 99 in Madera County, they spotted a flipped vehicle causing traffic to halt abruptly.
The scene at the vehicle accident could have been much worse had it not been for the involvement of three CDCR employees. They had no idea what they were going to see when they approached an SUV on its side.
As they approached, they parked their vehicles on the shoulder protecting bystanders and the wrecked car from oncoming traffic.
When they approached the SUV, they found two passengers, a man and a woman, trapped inside, but with only minor injuries. Castillo asked a bystander to call 9-1-1 and retrieved his medical bag from his state vehicle. Fernandez and Reyes found the doors were jammed shut. Working together, they successfully pried open a rear door and crawled into the back of the car.
After Fernandez and Reyes entered the vehicle, the two occupants could not free themselves from their seatbelts. Reyes used a knife to cut the man out of his seatbelt and lifted him out through the driver-side door to Castillo and another bystander. Fernandez used a first aid kit to assist the woman in the SUV, while Castillo escorted the man away from the incident and evaluated him for injuries.
Emergency personnel arrived and determined there was no way for her to get out, so the fire department asked Castillo to use his state-issued expandable monadnock baton to break the sun-roof’s glass. Before the glass was broken, Fernandez covered the woman with a blanket to protect her from flying glass.
The fire department ultimately determined the woman could not be safely removed through the sunroof and used the jaws of life tool to remove the SUV’s roof and windshield. Fernandez remained in the vehicle and shielded the woman while the fire department worked.
The three Correctional Officers took immediate action and worked as a team for a successful outcome.
Priscilla Rodriguez, Registered Nurse, Kern Valley State Prison
Heading home from the store one night in Kern County in April 2022, Nurse Rodriguez said intuition told her to take a different route – one that would take her past Hillcrest Cemetery.
Approaching the memorial lawn, she saw a small light in the distance, which she realized was the light of a cell phone. A young man was frantically waving his arms, trying to flag someone down for help.
Unsure of her and her son’s safety, she cracked her passenger side window down and asked if he needed help.
His speech was pressured and frantic as he tried to explain to Nurse Rodriguez that his girlfriend had locked herself in their car and was not breathing. He was already on the phone with emergency dispatchers.
Nurse Rodriguez could see the girl’s skin was white and pale, her face smeared with tears and mascara. They smashed the window to get to her with a tire iron. Working together, they pulled her out of the vehicle and onto the side of the road.
Nurse Rodriguez started doing CPR while explaining how to do respirations to the young man. After a moment, the girl’s boyfriend jumped up and said he had Narcan. Nurse Rodriguez gave the girl three doses while her boyfriend continued CPR.
After the third dose, she moved, opened her eyes, and yelled for her mom. Around this time, the paramedics had arrived.
Luckily Nurse Rodriguez took a different road home from the grocery store that night and was able to save a life.
Kristopher Sanborn, Parole Agent I
On the afternoon of Oct. 7, 2022, Agent Sanborn’s emergency training saved a man’s life after a violent accident.
Agent Sanborn was off-duty, driving east on River Islands Parkway in Lathrop, when he spotted the aftermath of an accident involving a Jeep SUV and a large dirt-hauling semi-truck.
The Jeep had severe damage to its front end, and smoke and fluids leaking from under the vehicle.
The large semi-truck was off the road, halfway on the sidewalk. It had hit a fire hydrant, unleashing a geyser of water under the truck.
Agent Sanborn approached the Jeep and announced himself as an off-duty peace officer and that he had emergency response training.
He found an unconscious man in the driver’s seat with blood streaming from his forehead, struggling to breathe. Agent Sanborn flagged down a nearby citizen and asked them to call emergency responders and then asked another person to keep an eye on the hood of the Jeep, as he feared it might catch fire.
He checked the driver’s vitals. While his pulse was strong, he was still struggling to breathe. After Agent Sanborn immobilized and supported the driver’s head, he started to breathe normally again.
Lathrop/Manteca Fire and paramedics arrived on the scene. A firefighter sat in the back seat of the Jeep and Agent Sanborn transferred his bracing hold to him.
Firefighters placed a supportive collar on the driver and they removed him from the vehicle onto a gurney to be taken to a local hospital.
Three High Desert State Prison Correctional Officers
- Felipe Valle, Correctional Officer
- Stephanie Mora, Correctional Officer
- and Andrea Abad, Correctional Officer
After completing a long shift last November, Officers Valle and Mora picked up Officer Abad from the Reno airport from vacation.
At 2:30 a.m., as the trio drove toward Susanville, they noticed a motorcycle traveling at a high rate of speed on the wrong side of the road.
Valle immediately slowed down, started blinking his high beams, and honked the horn to no avail. As the motorcycle approached, Valle veered into the left passing lane to avoid a head-on collision.
They watched as the motorcycle left the road, striking the wire fence ejecting the rider into the air.
Without hesitation, the three jumped out of the car and immediately conducted a search for the motorcyclist. He was located about 80 feet from the road lying facing down, unconscious, and gasping for air.
They noticed a pool of blood growing under him, and Valle immediately started life-saving measures.
The motorcyclist regained consciousness and was disoriented and erratic. Valle explained what happened and they were there to help him. Valle was able to keep him calm until emergency personnel arrived.
In the meantime, Abad called first responders and remained on the phone with the dispatcher describing the scene and the motorcyclist’s condition. Mora directed traffic by slowing oncoming traffic and directing them around the accident site until emergency personnel arrived at the scene.
The three took immediate action and worked as a team with a successful outcome. Emergency personnel determined the team’s quick thinking and response saved the motorcyclist’s life.
Yanira Hernandez, Correctional Officer, Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility
Officer Hernandez was playing tennis on her day off when she noticed a group of people surrounding a fellow player who was lying motionless on the ground.
On Dec. 19, 2022, Officer Hernandez identified herself as a peace officer and quickly rushed to assist the downed player. She checked for a pulse by placing her fingers on her neck. There was no pulse, and she was not breathing.
Hernandez remained calm and relied on her training to swiftly develop a plan of action. She prompted bystanders to call 911 and locate an automated external defibrillator (also known as an AED) while she started CPR.
She asked another bystander to assist so they did not lose any momentum while performing critical chest compressions.
Meanwhile, an AED was located, and Hernandez quickly administered shocks to the downed player. Paramedics arrived soon after to take over and take her to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Thankfully, her fellow player survived that day, and it was no doubt because of Officer Hernandez’ quick actions and tireless dedication in applying her lifesaving skills.
About a month after the scary event, Officer Hernandez, and the fellow player met again and she expressed her immense gratitude for Hernandez, saying, “If it wasn’t for what you did, I would be missing my daughters upcoming graduation and other tender family moments. I cannot express how grateful my family and I are that you saved my life.”
Juan “Sammy” Farias, Correctional Officer, Sierra Conservation Center
Officer Farias found himself at the right place at the right time.
He arrived at his daughter’s high school sports meet to find a panicked scene – people surrounding a young girl who lay motionless on the ground.
He dove in, quickly assessing the scene, looking for signs of external injuries and checking for breathing.
Officer Farias immediately determined CPR was necessary and began administering chest compressions.
Even as emergency medical services arrived at the scene, he delivered chest compressions until the very moment EMTs took over to administer defibrillation.
As life-saving measures continued, the ambulance rushed the girl to the closest trauma hospital. Unfortunately, she passed away a few hours later.
But this wasn’t the end of her story.
Last summer, following her untimely passing, her family made the courageous decision to have her organs donated. Because of this, seven children who were on various donation lists received the gift of continued life.
Because of Officer Farias, the young girl was able to sustain a pulse and pass away in the presence of her loving family and also be suitable as a donor.
His response to this emergency came as no surprise to his SCC family who sees him as a leader who is also kind and selfless.
“I cannot say enough of how much he is respected by his peers, and as a role model, how much he embodies the spirit and true attitude of a hero,” said his SCC Correctional Lt. Bryan Arnold.
Darryl Nolan, Correctional Sergeant, Folsom State Prison
An average day at work in September 2022 turned out to be anything but ordinary for Sgt. Darryl Nolan.
He was conducting his normal duties as an Outside Patrol Sergeant at Folsom State Prison, monitoring the areas around the institution’s perimeter and the neighboring residents.
A delivery truck arrived at one of the homes, attempting to deliver a package.
According to policy, Sgt. Nolan tried to call the resident to accept the package. But even after repeated calls, she didn’t answer.
Sgt. Nolan said his gut told him something was amiss. He knew the resident and saw she was home while conducting an earlier sweep that day. It was unlike her not to respond.
He immediately drove over to the residence and found the front door ajar, with no one responding to his calls.
Alarmed, Sgt. Nolan entered the home where he found the resident on the ground, injured and unable to move. The stove top was also on, a potential fire risk.
He shut off the stove, called emergency medical services, and supported the resident until they arrived.
Doctors later determined she had suffered a stroke, falling and fracturing her hip.
The resident was transported to a nearby hospital.
Sgt. Nolan’s instincts and attention to detail likely saved a life that day. He knew something was simply not right, and he met that moment with selfless bravery.
Five Salinas Valley State Prison employees
- Benny Cornelsen, Supervising Social Worker
- Alan Meyer, Lieutenant
- Evan Bielanski, Sergeant
- Carlos Santos, Correctional Officer
- Joel Gomez, Lieutenant
When the call to duty comes, it seems CDCR employees will answer it – even if they’re in Europe.
On May 6, 2022, our colleagues prevented a human trafficking incident at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel in Oslo, Norway with observational skills and calmness.
Supervising Social Worker Cornelsen, Lieutenant Meyer, Lieutenant Bielanski, and Correctional Officer Santos were in the hotel lobby, when they noticed two women standing outside. One woman appeared to be intoxicated and was struggling to stand. She had fresh injuries to her face and knees.
The woman who was not intoxicated spoke English and said they were currently waiting for transportation. She looked nervous and tried to walk away. The injured woman did not speak English and resisted walking away with the other woman and fell to the ground.
Our CDCR colleagues felt something wasn’t right. They helped the intoxicated woman stand up and escorted her back to the hotel lobby, where they asked the hotel staff to call the police. Once inside the hotel lobby, Sgt. Bielanski and Supervising Social Worker Cornelsen remained with the injured woman, while Correctional Officer Santos went to locate Norwegian correctional staff to translate.
At that point, a man showed up in a caged van and told Lieutenant Meyer that he was going to drive the intoxicated woman home.
Lt. Meyer told the man that he was not going to let that happen until the police arrived and cleared the situation. The driver became very upset and appeared he wanted to fight Lt. Meyer. At that point, Lt. Gomez arrived, noticed the confrontation, and stepped in.
The man drove off in a van and returned with someone while police and ambulance services arrived at the hotel. CDCR staff reported two men walking near the hotel to the authorities. After the men realized they had been spotted, they got into the van and left. The intoxicated woman was escorted to the hospital for medical treatment.
Sgt. Bielanski was informed by the Oslo Police that they had likely intercepted an incident of forced human trafficking.