York DA honors cops, prosecutors, citizens for outstanding service
The York County District Attorney's Office honored law enforcement, prosecutors, support staff and regular citizens at an awards ceremony Friday, Dec. 14 — an event DA Dave Sunday said will be held annually.
Honorees included U.S. Deputy Marshal Christopher Hill, who was killed in the line of duty 11 months ago; police who have arrested murderers and child predators; citizens whose work has improved their communities; and prosecutors and other members of the DA's office who have exhibited dedication and a willingness to go beyond what's required of them.
The District Attorney Award of Valor is named in honor of — and was posthumously awarded to — Hill, and presented by Assistant Chief York County Detective Jeff Spence, who knew Hill and served with him for a time on the U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force.
Hill, 45, joined the marshals in 2006. Before that, he served in the Army's 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger regiment. He was killed Jan. 18, 2018, while trying to arrest a fugitive in Harrisburg along with his fellow members of the marshals' fugitive task force. They include York City Police officers and members of the York County Sheriff's Office.
Hine 'dedicated, compassionate': Northern York County Regional Police Detective Michael Hine was recognized for outstanding work in arresting, charging and helping to convict child abusers, including child sexual predators.
Sunday said Hine works "diligently and tirelessly" to bring to justice those who hurt and exploit children. The DA praised Hine's dedication and compassion.
Sunday talked about the toll such work takes on police officers "every single day," and expressed gratitude to those in law enforcement who take on that difficult duty.
"He's the right kind of officer for that job," Northern Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel said of Hine. "He truly cares about these victims and their families. He takes this personally."
Called to action: Also honored with awards for outstanding service by a citizen were the parents of Loganville Fire Chief Rodney Miller and the mother of Loganville firefighter Zac Sweitzer. Both volunteer firefighters were killed by DUI drivers — Zac in 2008 and the chief, Sweitzer's mentor, in 2013.
Since then, Missy Sweitzer — who subsequently became a traffic safety specialist for the Center for Traffic Safety — and Paul and Elaine Miller have organized annual Black Friday blood drives in honor of Zac and Rodney and successfully advocated for tougher drunken-driving laws and increased use of ignition interlock systems that keep DUI drivers from starting their vehicles in the first place.
Sunday called them "shining examples of individuals who turned tragedy into a positive force for making our roadways safer."
The trio, along with PA Parents Against Impaired Driving, spoke with state legislators and gave presentations arguing for stronger penalties, which "culminated in 2018 with the Pennsylvania Legislature enacting enhanced penalties for repeat DUI offenders who commit homicide by vehicle while DUI."
New felony DUI law: Their efforts also led to the passage of this state's first felony repeat-offender DUI law, according to Sunday.
Sweitzer also provides food to police working DUI checkpoints. She said providing "checkpoint chowder" to first responders is "part of my therapy."
Paul Miller said he hopes his work has made people "a little safer," and said Pennsylvania had been one of only four states without a felony repeat-offender DUI law.
That new law takes effect Dec. 23, which coincidentally is the date that Rodney Miller's killer was sentenced in 2014. Matthew Scott Diehl was sentenced to 9½ to 19 years in state prison for fatally striking the 45-year-old fire chief at the Glen Rock exit of Interstate 83 on April 27, 2013, as the chief was stopping traffic on the highway for an earlier crash.
"It's a nice Christmas present for the citizens of this commonwealth," Paul Miller said.
"We don't do this for accolades," Sweitzer said, adding the three are passionate about making sure this doesn't happen to anyone else's children. "We never expected to lose our boys the way we did."
"We've been thrown into a world we had no knowledge of," Elaine Miller said, adding that it was "an eye-opener" to learn Pennsylvania's DUI laws were weak in areas.
"That began a journey we couldn't possibly have imagined," she continued. "But it's healing. It makes you feel like you're doing something to honor their legacy."
Stepped up: Sunday also honored Randolph Wagner, 69, for helping Northern Regional Police capture a fugitive — at some personal risk.
On May 4, officers were trying to arrest a man who was exhibiting manic behavior and had an outstanding warrant, according to Sunday.
As the man started to run away, Wagner stepped into his path to block him, the DA said. For his trouble, the fleeing fugitive punched him in the face.
Sunday called it "an unbelievably selfless act" and praised Wagner's quick thinking.
A self-effacing Wagner said his actions might have had less to do with quick thinking and more to do with "being too old to get out of the way."
Wagner told The York Dispatch he merely suffered "a few scrapes" and was fine afterward.
Dogged investigation: Sunday honored Hanover Police Sgt. Jason Byers for his years of work investigating the fatal heroin overdose death of 20-year-old Aaron Lawrence in 2010.
That investigation proved both difficult and lengthy, with a number of obstacles, he said.
Despite that, Byers dug in and kept digging until he had enough evidence to make two arrests for Lawrence's death, Sunday said — "after seven years of diligently pursuing every lead."
Jennifer Busbey was convicted of third-degree murder for providing the fatal drug and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. The case against co-defendant Justin Wentz remains active, court records state.
Double murder: Also honored were state police Troopers Dan Weldon and Scott Denisch, who spent countless hours investigating the September 2016 double murder of Danielle Taylor and Foday Cheeks in a Fawn Township home.
Sunday said their work didn't end after the arrests of Paul Henry III and his wife, Veronique Henry. The troopers "worked tirelessly with the prosecution ... at all hours of the day and night," tracking down witnesses, transporting them, interviewing them and making sure the case was solid, he said.
Denisch, like many of Friday's award recipients, said they are merely part of a larger team.
Strong leader: Also honored at Friday's ceremony was Seth Bortner, the DA's chief of trials, for his strong leadership in the position, created after Sunday took office.
The DA called Bortner "a steady and reliable legal resource" who is always available to provide guidance and advice to prosecutors. He oversees 15 senior prosecutors.
Since taking the position, his guidance has helped drastically reduce the number of cases thrown out because too much time has passed, Sunday said. In Pennsylvania, prosecutors have one year to take a defendant to trial, not including defense delays.
Appellate 'go-to': Deputy prosecutor Stephanie Lombardo was recognized for her work in the appellate unit of the DA's office.
Sunday praised her work ethic and willingness to work late into the night and on weekends. He said she is the go-to in his office "when complex legal matters arise or special research projects pop up."
Grant-finding expertise: DA's office support-staffer Michelle Baughman was honored for agreeing to take on another position created by Sunday after he took office — that of deputy administrator of grant and office management.
"(Baughman's) institutional knowledge of the criminal justice system and understanding of our office's mission and goals allowed you to successfully seek, apply for and be awarded a number of grants in her first nine months in the position," Sunday said.
They included grants that provided tactical ballistic vests for the York County Quick Response Team, a Livescan fingerprinting machine for York County Prison, equipment and training for prison workers and DA's office workers to improve their ability to collect intelligence in and out of the prison and a school-safety grant for Central York High School.
"In the rare times when she doesn't read my mind, all I need to do is give her a vision and a deadline and you can consider it done," said Kyle King, the DA's chief administrator and spokesman.
Team player: Dan Smith, the DA's extradition coordinator, was honored for handling about 700 extraditions in 2018 and for forging and maintaining relationships with hundreds of law-enforcement agencies around the country, Sunday said.
Smith was described by management as the epitome of a team player who does whatever it takes to get the job done.
Advocating for victims: Kaitlin Stiles, a victim/witness coordinator in the DA's office, was honored for her work helping to lead crime victims or their survivors through the criminal-justice system.
Specifically, she organized and communicated with more than 100 victims of a fraud contractor, most of whom lived out of state, Sunday said.
"Although this led to long hours, weekends in the office, time away from family and on one occasion the fronting of your own money, (Stiles) did so, knowing that the integrity of this prosecution was priority No. 1."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.