Commissioners recognize jail personnel for stepping up to save lives

June 2, 2014
Four of nine guards honored for their life-saving assistance to inmates stand outside the county jail May 9. From left are Joe Miller, Greg Bagay, Karen Goetz and Laura Radcliffe. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Over the past 17 years, Washington County jail employees have saved lives by administering the Heimlich maneuver, halting suicide attempts and performing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, for which the county commissioners recognized them.

Three who performed the Heimlich maneuver were Karen Goetz, a 12-year corrections officer, who saved a female inmate who was choking on an orange rind in 2005; Joe Miller, a full-time corrections officer for 14 1/2 years, who came to the aid of an inmate in 1997; and Laura Radcliffe, a full-time corrections officer since 2012 who rescued an inmate last year.

The corrections officer who intervened in an attempted hanging last year was Greg Bagay, hired at the jail in 1995.

Quick action last year by two officers, Matthew Bodnar, full time since 2011, and James Emler, a 20-year employee, staved off the death of a prisoner from a razor laceration of the arm.

Administering CPR saved two other inmates. Corrections Officer Wendy Harris, who has been on the job since 2012, and licensed practical nurse Kevin Spragg, who transferred from the health center to the jail the same year, performed the life-saving action during their first year while working at the jail.

Officer Matthew Henderson, a full-time employee for 19 years, also saved an inmate through the use of CPR in 2011.

Those who gathered for a photograph in front of the jail downplayed their actions, declining to identify themselves as heroes.

“You have a fight-or-flight response,” Goetz said.

“Some freeze, and some react,” Radcliffe said. “We reacted.”

“It’s not above and beyond the call of duty,” said Capt. Mark Ochkie, who compiled the list of officers who received certificates from the commissioners to recognize jobs well done. “It’s what we do. We can show them they’re appreciated.”

Warden John Temas noted all corrections officers have certification in first aid, including performing the Heimlich maneuver and CPR.

He did not name the inmates who could have died at the jail were it not for the actions of the corrections officers and nurse.

The commissioners commended the employees for their ability to react during an emergency in a stressful environment and performing duties out of the public’s eye in conjunction with National Correctional Officers and Employees Week.

Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan called correctional officers “under-recognized and underappreciated. We tend to forget about this segment of law enforcement.” She also noted that Washington County has the third-lowest cost in Pennsylvania of incarcerating an inmate per day.

Commission Chairman Larry Maggi, former state trooper and sheriff, said the corrections officers “don’t see daylight for a lot of hours.”

For someone who might look askance at saving the lives of prisoners, Deputy Warden Edward Strawn said, “That’s somebody’s child. We are there not only to protect the public, but to protect the inmates.”

The Washington County jail houses, on average, 380 prisoners.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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