Five Columbus police officers were honored by the city for their efforts to save lives and protect the most vulnerable among us.

Each was nominated by their supervisors for selfless actions in separate incidents saving two Columbus residents’ lives, and helping an elderly woman who had no one to help her gain access to her home during the recent snowfall. The commendations were given Tuesday at a Columbus Board of Works meeting at City Hall.

“We’ve got a great group of officers who give of themselves without any thought of public recognition,” said Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde. “I couldn’t be more proud of the people I serve with and what they stand for.”

Pulled to safety

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The most well-known of the incidents happened on Jan. 17 when Columbus Police Officer Greg Ross was credited with saving the life of a Nashville truck owner whose vehicle had flipped over a steep embankment and landed upside down partially submerged in the Driftwood River on the city’s west side.

The soft-spoken Ross was on duty near the Westhill Shopping Center off Jonathan Moore Pike when the call came over the police radio seeking the water rescue team about Gary Pugh’s accident. And although the accident scene on County Road 325W was technically outside the city limits, Ross was very near, so he immediately went and was the first officer on the scene.

Sliding down a 15-foot snow-covered embankment, Ross said he found Pugh trapped in the cab of the upside-down four-door truck with water filling the cabin. Pugh was trapped in about 7- to 8-inches of water that was filling the cab. The temperature was 12 degrees that day, with the windchill in the subzero range, but Ross went down the embankment in just his uniform, although he now says he might have thought to take off his duty belt. But at the time, he called to the driver, and when Pugh didn’t respond, he went down the embankment.

“I couldn’t get the back door open — just a few inches — so I used force to get the front door open,” he said. “I knew I had to get him out.”

During the commendation ceremony, Rohde noted that not many officers might have the strength to pull open a jammed truck door, but he pointed toward Ross and said his stature obviously had something to do with it.

Ross said he knew the driver didn’t have much strength as Pugh was having a hard time responding to the officer.

“I didn’t know how long he had been in there,” Ross said. “He was laying in the water — completely wet.”

Luckily, Pugh was wearing overalls, which had straps which served as built-in handles, Ross said.

After forcing the door open by yanking at it multiple times, Ross then grabbed the overalls and pulled Pugh out as firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and ambulance personnel arrived.

They immediately threw down rescue ropes to Ross and Pugh, and Ross secured the driver and himself, as they were leaning against the truck and Ross said he was unsure if it would sink or tip further into the river.

With the help of first responders, Pugh was wrapped in blankets and pulled up the embankment in a basket. When taken to Columbus Regional Hospital, he was treated for hypothermia because of the 34-degree water temperature, and later released remarkably in fairly good shape.

Ross was unable to accompany Pugh to the hospital, as he too was soaked, and went home to change his uniform and resume his shift. The two have not been able to talk since the incident, but Ross said he has been grateful for Pugh’s notes on social media thanking him for the rescue.

Ross, a Columbus North graduate, has been a Columbus police officer for about 13 years and said he plans on staying on patrol duty for his law enforcement career. He doesn’t recall ever being called to open a jammed truck door single-handledly to save a driver sinking in water before, but he expressed his gratitude to all the first responders who worked so professionally together to rescue Pugh.

“It’s just one of those things that happened,” he said. “I like working with citizens, working with people. It’s different every day.”

Officers save woman

The city also honored two officers whose instincts told them something was wrong when sent on Jan. 7 to check on a local woman whose family believed she might harm herself.

Police officers conduct welfare checks at local residences throughout a shift, and in this case Officers Matt Martindale and Logan Adams were sent to a home to check on the woman. After knocking on the home’s door several times, they decided to check on a detached garage and first turned off their patrol cars to better hear what was happening on the property.

The officers heard music and the sound of a vehicle running in the garage, which had locked doors and a blocked window, Rohde said. The officers made a forced entry into the garage and found the woman unconscious in the driver’s seat of the vehicle with a slight pulse and shallow breathing. They opened the garage door and carried the woman from the vehicle, and began life-saving measures, and she was transported to the hospital, where she regained consciousness.

The officers’ supervisor, Sgt. Steve Long, said the two saved the life of a person who had two small children.

“Although the rescue did not fix the person’s problems, it gave her another day with her family to begin the healing process,” Long said of the rescue. “The officers also prevented something that was irreversible and would have been devastating to their family and friends. The way these officers responded and the professionalism they demonstrated should not go without notice.”

Rohde praised the officers for their instinct to turn off their cars as a gut feeling that something was wrong, which led to the woman’s rescue.

Act of kindness

Two other Columbus Police Department officers were honored for their efforts to help an elderly Columbus woman whose circumstances touched their hearts.

On Jan. 13, Officer Matthew Prendergast took the woman home from Columbus Regional Hospital while on third shift and in talking with her learned that her husband and son had died, and she did not have anyone to help her with clearing the recent snowfall from her sidewalk and driveway.

When Prendergast dropped her off, he saw that the areas were ice- and snow-covered and were dangerous for the woman to navigate in and out of her home.

At the end of the shift Prendergast and Officer Danielle Stigers returned to the woman’s residence with snow shovels and cleared her sidewalk and driveway so that it would be safe.

Their supervisor, John Luttrell, said the act of kindness by the two officers often is unnoticed by the public, but the officers went above and beyond to assist an elderly person in need.

Rohde said the two clearly demonstrated a true public servant’s heart by helping the woman.

“It struck me, I would have been perfectly fine if they had just gone ahead and shoveled while they were on duty,” Rohde said. “But they waited until they were off-duty. I think this shows what a great group of officers we have.”

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.