A Washington State Trooper helps a Homeless Family

LimboMurray Duncan and his fiancée, Alyssa Dunn, thought they had their lives planned out when they moved here from Delaware last month. Dunn had a job lined up as a gate agent at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and the couple had enough savings to live with their 6-month-old son in a hotel for about a month while they looked for an apartment. But after the transmission on their Hyundai Elantra blew out during the drive to Washington State, the couple found themselves broke and weeks away from Dunn’s first paycheck. After finding a Redmond church that offered overnight shelter, they decided to make an Interstate 5 rest area their home during the day, getting by on a patchwork of other social services. It’s not uncommon for the region’s homeless residents to spend their days at highway rest areas, although state law limits visits to eight hours at a time, according to the Washington State Patrol. Trooper Stephanie Bjorkman was tracking down witnesses for an investigation at the Sea Tac Rest Area along the freeway near Federal Way late last month when she encountered Duncan, 23, and his baby — new faces among the regulars. She decided to help the young family. “I see people who are in this permanent limbo phase because they’re not doing what they should be doing,” Bjorkman said. “(Duncan and Dunn) are in this limbo, but they’re trying to get out.” Bjorkman has helped the family get food, water and baby formula. She’s also provided Duncan and Dunn, 24, with information about free activity programs for kids so they can get the boy out of the car. Various churches and the Salvation Army provide the family with dinner Monday through Friday, but they have to find their own food on the weekends, so Bjorkman has been giving them restaurant gift cards. Bjorkman said once the family has proof of income with Dunn’s first paycheck in the coming days, they will be eligible for more state resources. But until then, Bjorkman has been taking it upon herself to help the family get food, water and baby formula. “Words can’t even explain,” Duncan said of Bjorkman’s help. “She’s definitely looked out for us, and we can’t thank her enough.” Troopers are regularly called out to direct homeless people away from rest areas, though the homeless often return later. Bjorkman said she sees both sides of the issue. “DOT wants their rules enforced, but oftentimes (homeless people) have nowhere else to go,” she said. For now, Bjorkman continues to check in on the family, providing help when she can. Dunn said she and Duncan were recently accepted into the state’s Diversion Cash Assistance program, which will provide them with temporary aid for housing once they sign an apartment lease. The couple recently found an apartment, and they’re waiting to hear when they can move in. Duncan plans to start working once they get established. In February, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other regional leaders and homeless advocates announced $17 million in county funding for new, affordable housing units and emergency shelter in the county, some of it aimed specifically at South and East King County. A count last year put Washington’s homeless population at 19,418, with King County accounting for 52percent of the total. Dunn said she wishes there were more transitional homes in the area for people who already have jobs. She described one shelter the family stayed in as being infested with bedbugs. Bjorkman said providing the family with assistance has been a great counterbalance to the type of work she usually deals with as a trooper. “You’re never sure how they’re going to react,” Bjorkman said. “From what they’ve told me and what I’ve seen, I feel like it’s going to help them move out of this period.” She said troopers often help the homeless in smaller ways, recalling a former colleague whose wife would make extra sandwiches for him to give to those in need. “That’s sort of the way a lot of these troopers are,” said State Patrol spokesman Chris Webb. “They do these things and you don’t find out about it — sometimes until six months later.”

Line

Local Elementary School gets help from Connecticut State Police to teach the students about science in the community

CTBy the end of Deans Mill School’s annual Science and Tech Day last Thursday, young Josie Hatch could dust for fingerprints like a pro. “You put your hand on paper and then you swirl around the brush, and then you find a fingerprint,” Josie, a 6-year-old kindergarten student, said. “It was pretty neat.” Josie and her classmates learned a little about DNA, the tools investigators use at crime scenes and the inside of a police vehicle from the Connecticut State Police on a day educators at Deans Mill set aside every year for students to learn how science and technology is used in the real world. “We teach them how science helps police work,” Detective Karen O’Connor, a polygraph examiner with the State Police, said. “We look at fingerprint patterns and the technology in police cars. Technology has completely enhanced everything.” Students from kindergarten through Grade 4 received lessons on everything late last week — from robotics to plankton and its place in the food chain to how liquid nitrogen freezes objects. Local businesses like Pfizer and teacher and student groups from Stonington High and Mystic Middle also presented. “A lot of the parents of our kids help out, too,” said Kristen Morehouse, a kindergarten teacher. “That way, students find out about what adults in the community do.” Members of Mystic Middle School’s SeaPerch team, who advanced to a second consecutive national competition this spring, talked to the younger students about the afterschool program. In SeaPerch, students design and build ROVs, underwater remotely operated vehicles. “We’re trying to teach them about designing ROVS so when they go on to college maybe they can find a job,” Mystic Middle sixth-grader Baxter Menzies said, standing outside a large tank filled with water and various ROVs. “You learn about engineering, and it’s fun, too. “Not a lot of people can build robots like this. At our school, it’s something you can do.” Elsewhere in Deans Mill’s building, Stonington High students helped teach youngsters about the science of roller coasters and worked in small groups to design and build a working roller coaster, using pipe insulation for tracks and a marble for the car. “We tested out all of the tracks,” second-grader Eli Iovino, 7, said. “We learned how you can do stuff with science and technology. If you don’t know science, you won’t know how to do very much.” For kindergartner Maddie Johnson, her favorite part of the day was learning how to be a detective. “It was cool,” Maddie, 5, said. “We got to push buttons while sitting in the police car.”

Line

Kindergarten Class Rewards Massachusetts State Trooper for his Act Kindness

Collage Mass

The Massachusetts State Trooper who gained accidental fame for an act of kindness last month was paid back in kind on Friday when a Hudson kindergarten class invited him to lunch. Trooper Luke Bonin was leaving court in May when he spotted a panhandler on the side of the road in Fall River. Bonin went to a nearby restaurant and returned with lunch, after which the two shared a meal. The good deed may have gone unnoticed if not for a passerby who was touched by the scene and posted a photo on Facebook. From that point, the photo began being shared and the story was picked up by news sites throughout the country. One month later, it was Bonin's turn to have lunch bought for him. "Well, after Mrs. Mullen's Kindergarten class at Farley Elementary School in Hudson saw Trooper Bonin's kindness, one of the kindergarteners, yes that's right, one of the students, thought it would be a great idea to pay it forward and invite Trooper Bonin to lunch at the school," a post on the State Police Facebook page states. The class first made a banner to thank Bonin, which Mullen shipped to the Dartmouth Barracks at which he works. Afterwards, Mullen extended the invitation for Bonin to speak to the class and to have lunch at the school. "When Trooper Bonin arrived, he was welcomed with open arms and began with reading the class a book," the post states. "He also brought with him a globe and asked each student to put a fingerprint on the globe, while he talked to them about 'leaving a positive mark on the world' as they grow older, to do nice things for people and it will come back around to them, as good things will happen to them." The real reward though may have been for the students who, after lunch, had a chance to check out Trooper Bonin's cruiser, play with the lights and talk over the PA system. "Trooper Bonin was the star in Hudson today! However, he appreciated being invited and the chance to spend time with the class more than the children enjoyed having him," the post states. "Thank you again to Mrs. Mullen's kindergarten class."

Line

Driver Arrested After Hit and Run in Tampa

The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a wild hit-and-run caught on video in Tampa. Cell phone video shows what appears to be a driver of a silver car deliberately plow down two people on a motorcycle. The incident happened on US 41 and County Line Road around 5:35 p.m. on Monday. According to witness, Abe Garcia, who captured the incident on video, the driver of the motorcycle confronted the driver of the car after he witnessed the car cut the motorcyclist off. "The guy driving the car was driving recklessly, like crazy out of control," Garcia said.  "I saw him almost run one of the bikers over, like off the side of the road.  So, then the bikers caught up to him at a red light and words started exchanging, and then the guy went complete psychopath." That's when Garcia said the driver, who authorities later identified as 31-year-old Robert Vance, deliberately tried to run the man and woman over. "The guy tried to kill them," Garcia said.  "It was a red light and then it turned green.  He could've just gone straight, but he went for the biker." Action News has reached out to the Florida Highway Patrol and is awaiting an official report. Troopers arrested Vance down the road about five minutes after the incident. He had damage to his car consistent with the crash. Both passengers on the motorcycle were taken to the hospital and are expected to be okay. "I knew something was going to go down... I didn't know that extreme at all. But, people are crazy man. Anywhere your life could end instantly," Garcia said. Vance is no stranger to the law. His rap sheet includes habitual traffic offenses and arrests for drugs and violence. He now faces charges including leaving the scene of a crash and aggravated battery. Vance admitted to investigators he hit the victims and left the scene.

Line

Massachusetts State Trooper Saved a Woman from a burning car

MAfire

A decorated state trooper is being hailed as a hero after rescuing a 23-year-old woman just moments before flames engulfed her car. Trooper Glenn Witaszek — who earned the Medal of Valor in 2013 after a 2012 shootout in Chicopee — received a report of a single-car crash on the Mass Pike in Palmer yesterday. As he approached, he saw the car in the woods with smoke coming from it. He recounted the rescue to the Herald’s Chris Villani. Luckily, I was there within a matter of moments. The vehicle was already in flames … the engine compartment and the front seat were in flames. The vehicle was on its side, basically wrapped around a tree, and the roof area was smashed down. The damage to the vehicle was tremendous, even minus being caught on fire. I parked about 20 feet away and ran toward the vehicle. I could hear a woman screaming, I noticed she was in the back seat area, screaming for help. With the vehicle on its side, it’s hard to push a door up to get out. It’s hard for one person to do it, never mind with a broken arm. Plus there was too much damage from the car, I am not sure that door was going to open at all. I told her, ‘Watch out, I am going to break the back window.’ I broke the window using an ASP, a baton, and was able to get her out of the vehicle. She was covered in blood, but I didn’t see any burn marks on her. She said her left arm hurt and she thought it was broken. Her father told me later that her left arm was broken, but no major, serious injuries. It was only a matter of moments before the rest of the car caught on fire and it was fully engulfed before the fire department got there. I brought her back to my cruiser. She was thankful … she had some cuts, but nothing was gushing blood at the time. She was grateful she was rescued. It’s a lot of trauma to be in that position to even think straight. It was a matter of timing. If I was there a minute or two later, I think I could have gotten her out, but she would have had some burns on her. Much longer after that, in my opinion, I don’t think she would have been alive. I have seen cars on fire … but not to that extent. I have seen where a little bit of the car is on fire … most of the time people get themselves out. This is the first time I have had to pull someone out of a car that was halfway on fire. Any other police officer would do the exact same thing. I don’t see myself as a hero. It’s very flattering, but I am doing my job. I am out there to protect people and keep people safe