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Virginia Department of Corrections — Public Safety First

News: Press Release

For Immediate Release: February 27, 2013 - Contact Lisa E. Kinney, (804) 674-3275

VADOC Corrections Officer Saves Trapped Motorists over Presidents' Day Weekend

RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Corrections is commending an officer who put himself in harm's way to save trapped motorists over Presidents' Day weekend. On Sunday, Feb. 17, Corrections Officer Willie S. Thompson finished his shift at 3:00 a.m. at the Harrisonburg Men's Detention Center in Rockingham County and headed home, not knowing that within minutes he would find himself saving lives on the side of a dark country road.

When Officer Thompson left the detention center, he drove into a snow squall consisting of high wind, blowing snow, and a temperature of 19 degrees. While driving under these difficult conditions, Thompson came upon a vehicle front bumper lying in the road at a bridge. He stopped to remove the bumper section from the road and heard screaming coming from below the bridge. Following the sounds and using his flashlight, Officer Thompson identified a vehicle lying on its roof in the water below. As Thompson would learn, there were four victims in the overturned vehicle three females and one male, all appearing to be in their teens or early twenties.

Officer Thompson made his way to the vehicle and helped the first female victim up the steep bank of the stream. He quickly assessed her injuries as minor and moved her to his car for warmth as she was wet and very cold.

Knowing that he would need additional help, Thompson used his cell phone to call for assistance.

Officer Thompson saw a second female victim screaming as she crawled out of a side window. As he helped her up the bank he noticed she was bleeding from injuries to the face and head. He used his winter watch cap to stem the bleeding from the facial injuries and placed her into the back seat of his car, instructing the first female victim to hold the watch cap to the face of the second victim.

Thompson once again turned back to the overturned vehicle. The male victim was outside of the vehicle trying to help the third female victim who remained trapped in the car with only her head above water. Thompson worked with the male victim but they were unable to open the vehicle doors. By this time Officer Thompson noticed the male victim showing signs of hypothermia and limited coordination. Thompson pulled the male victim up the bank, assessed his injuries, and placed him in the front seat of his car.

With three victims in his car, Officer Thompson returned his attention to the female victim who remained trapped in the overturned vehicle in the creek. Thompson struggled to get her attention and after multiple attempts she finally answered him, begging him not to leave her and not to let her die. Thompson was unable to free the victim from the vehicle but stayed with her. When rescue workers arrived, they told Thompson the victim was going into shock and suffering from hypothermia. Rescue workers used Jaws of Life to extract the young woman from the car.

Three of the victims were later treated and released from Rockingham Memorial Hospital. The fourth victim was transported to the University of Virginia Hospital. All four victims survived their ordeal.

"From the moment he stopped to move the bumper, which others might have just driven by, until he stood leaning over the bridge comforting the fourth victim, Officer Thompson demonstrated significant physical courage and valor," said Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke. "Officer Thompson exemplifies the professionalism and selflessness we Virginians rely on every day from our dedicated corrections officers."

Officer Willie S. Thompson joined the VADOC in April 2008. In March 2012 he transferred from Augusta Correctional Center to the Harrisonburg Men's Detention Center.

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