Courageous officers honoured
Constable Ben Turner and Senior Constable Adrian Oldham are the two recipients of the 2015 Police Association Bravery Awards.
They were presented with their awards by Prime Minister John Key in a ceremony last month.
Left to right: Constable Ben Turner, Police Association President Greg O'Connor, Prime Minister Rt Hon John Key, Senior Constable Adrian Oldham.
The scene that played out in a Pak’nSave supermarket in Hamilton on a busy Monday in August last year was quite surreal for onlookers, and for those involved in apprehending a violent, armed and dangerous man.
It was near the middle of the day that a van screeched into the Mill St Pak’nSave car park pursued by several police cars.
The driver of the van was Zeb McCallion, who had been on the run from police for several weeks.
He was known to be armed and most definitely dangerous.
During a previous pursuit, he had pulled out a loaded, sawn-off shotgun; a few days after that, when pursued by an officer on foot, he presented a shotgun again and was known to have an explosive device made of gelignite and a fuse. He evaded capture by threatening the occupants of a house, including two small children, with a shotgun and then stealing their van.
When the call came in on August 25 that the stolen van had been sighted, several police responded and a pursuit ensued, during which the van hit several vehicles before entering the Mill St Pak’nSave car park, where it hit another vehicle and McCallion was forced to exit the van.
Constable Ben Turner was in the third police vehicle, driven by Sergeant Mark Sandford, to arrive at the car park. The scene unfolded before his eyes.
McCallion got out of the van and Ben saw the gun. He instinctively yelled “Gun!” to warn other officers and the public.
McCallion was determinedly walking towards the supermarket’s petrol station area.
At the same time, Senior Constable Blair Spalding, in another vehicle, had managed to cut McCallion off. He fell across the bonnet of the police vehicle, but got up and continued on.
Ben, who was unarmed and had taken cover behind the dog van, saw McCallion closing in on a small SUV parked at the pumps, the sole occupant of which was an older woman.
McCallion put his hands on the woman’s shoulders, trying to drag her from the vehicle.
At that moment, Ben says, he realised he “had to make a decision”. I thought, “I’ve got to help her”.
He ran full tilt towards McCallion, who was about 20 to 30 metres away. Knowing the gun was in McCallion’s right hand, Ben grabbed his left arm hard, trying to spin him away from the woman and drag him to the ground.
“It wasn’t easy. The woman was screaming, he was screaming at me. I spun him around twice, trying to keep the firearm away from the woman or anyone else.”
Then Blair arrived to help with the takedown. All three men were still standing and “half a second later”, the gun discharged, wounding Blair in the foot and McCallion in the leg and chest. In another second, McCallion was on the ground. “I had his left arm, holding him down, but his right arm was still under his body. We thought he still had the gun,” Ben says.
It took the help of another two officers (Constable Heath Cameron and Constable Scott Robinson) and a dog to secure McCallion. Ben continued to hold McCallion and the gun was recovered nearby.
“I was fine,” says Ben, although he realised later that he had been lucky not to have also been wounded in the violent struggle. He is full of praise for his colleagues, Blair, Mark and Scott, and Heath, who had the presence of mind to disable the petrol pumps by pressing an emergency button and also comforted the traumatised woman in the car.
That afternoon, Superintendent Bruce Bird told a news conference that Police were “in awe of the absolute courage and dedication to duty of the officers who captured a man who was a significant threat to our communities”.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush told 3News: “The officers had shown great courage in putting themselves at risk to protect a member of the public.”
Ben says his main motivation was his concern for the woman in the car and “it was the right thing to do in my role as a police officer”.
Doing the right thing seems to come naturally to the Hamilton-born and raised dog handler, who has been with Police in that city for 10 years. In 2012, Ben and his dog Ponch were recognised for bravery after tracking and apprehending a man who had threatened people at the Taupiri Tavern and discharged a gun. Earlier this year, Ben took out the top Police award for excellence in the Waikato District – the Gallagher trophy.
Ben, 36, is married with two children. When he got home from work on August 25 last year, his wife had heard all about the incident at the car park. “Yeah, she was proud,” Ben admits.
She too must have realised that, despite being unarmed and in a vulnerable position, her police officer husband had nonetheless put his own life at risk to help another, showing true selflessness and bravery.
“I was Johnny on the spot”
The choking black smoke engulfing the inside of a home nearly stopped Senior Constable Adrian Oldham from entering the house – until he realised that he was the only person who could help the elderly woman trapped inside.
Senior Constable Adrian Oldham, 55, is an old-school cop who’s seen his fair share of action over 35 years on the frontline, including being kidnapped and shot at. It’s all part of the job he loves, he says. “That’s the beauty of it. You go to work and never know what’s going to happen.”
That was never truer than the evening of July 6 last year when the PST (public safety team) officer was on duty, returning from Mt Maunganui to the seaside holiday suburb of Papamoa, where he is stationed.
When he saw what appeared to be a fire at a house in Maranui St, he immediately suspected either an uncontrolled barbecue or a fire at an empty holiday house.
He stopped, alerted the comms centre and went to investigate and was shocked to discover that the back of the house was ablaze and, from what he could see through a window, the interior was filled with thick black smoke.
Quite suddenly, “like a freak apparition”, the face of an elderly woman appeared behind the glass.
Adrian pointed at the door handle and yelled at her to open it. He saw the confusion in her eyes. “She was fumbling around with the handle and I saw her take a couple of steps back and disappear into the dark. I heard a whimper and then I heard the noise of a body falling on to the floor.”
He tried to force open the security door, but it wouldn’t budge, so he smashed a nearby window. It had security stays, but adrenaline kicked in and he wrenched the whole window out, climbing through into the choking smoke which even the light of his police torch couldn’t penetrate.
Gasping for air and with his eyes streaming, he was forced back to the window to take a breath and the reality of the situation started to dawn on him. “I thought, wow, I can’t do this. How do people do this in the movies? I looked around and there was still no fire brigade.” He realised then that it was either him or no one. “I thought, I’m Johnny on the spot and that’s someone’s nana in there.”
He took his jacket off, took a “massive gulp of air” and went back in, getting down on his hands and knees to crawl forward. “I figured that she couldn’t be that far away from the window. After about 10 or 12 feet, I put my hands on her stomach. I felt down and grabbed her ankles and just dragged her to the window.”
It was proving difficult to get her out through the high window, but just then Adrian’s colleague, Constable Shane McCarthy, arrived in another car. “He straight away started kicking in the bottom window. We both put our duty jackets down on the glass and pulled her out over that.”
They got her to the deck, where she regained consciousness and was able to confirm that there was no one else, or any pets, in the house.
The fire brigade arrived and extinguished the blaze and the woman was taken to Tauranga Hospital where she was treated for smoke inhalation and cuts to her hands.
A Fire Service senior station officer, Mark Keller, said later that if it had not been for Adrian driving past the house, there would have been a very different outcome. There was no doubt that his actions, and those of his colleague, helped save a life that day.
That life belongs to Neta Lawrence who is today enjoying life in a retirement village and says she will be forever grateful to her rescuer. “I could not have wished for anybody better. If I had passed out and nobody had been there, I wouldn’t be here now,” she told the Bay of Plenty Times.
The day of the fire, the 77-year-old had just flicked off her electric blanket when the control ignited in her hand. She rushed to the bathroom to get a towel and water to douse the flames, but by the time she got back, the bed was on fire. Soon after, she was overwhelmed with the smoke and remembers nothing more until she came round on the deck and heard someone saying, “Here’s the ambulance, we’re taking you to hospital.”
Adrian also had a check-up that day at the hospital and returned to his shift soon afterwards. However, a couple of days later, he started to suffer from delayed symptoms of smoke inhalation and was forced to take a few days off work. “I have never been so sick in my life,” he said.
Reflecting on the incident later, Adrian told Radio New Zealand that, despite the intense discomfort and danger, he had never feared for his own safety. “I would do the same thing again at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t matter if it’s somebody’s nana or someone with a patch on their back, you do it. It’s a human life.
“The Fire Service told me that if I hadn’t gone in there, she would have died in one to two minutes. I got a little bit emotional then, because I thought, wow, I really have saved this woman’s life.
“My wife and my kids think I’m a hero and I guess the reality is that it is quite a nice thing to have done, but it’s just something you do.”
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said of the incident, that “there could be no better demonstration of the outstanding work of New Zealand Police members to keep people safe in their communities”.
Photos: Fairfax Media, www.SNPA.co.nz, Sunlive Media.
The Police Association Bravery Award
The NZ Police Association Bravery Award began in 2010 to recognise and honour the most outstanding acts of bravery performed by members of Police, on or off duty.
The award represents peer recognition of a member’s outstanding bravery.
The design of the award is based on the sternpost of a Maori waka, traditionally carved to provide guardianship of a journey. The cast bronze sternpost incorporates a Police chevron, and represents the strength, resolve and community guardianship of police. The sternpost is topped by a flame of pounamu, representing the outstanding valour of the act of bravery, and the high value in which the recipient is held.
The first officer to be honoured was Inspector Mike O’Leary, who received the award for rescuing two children from a burning van after a crash near Taupo. In 2011, Constable Mike Wardle and former constable Marty Stiles were honoured for their bravery under fire, saving the life of Senior Constable Bruce Lamb, who was shot in the face by an armed offender in Christchurch. A third officer received an award arising from a separate incident (the award was made privately due to the need for confidentiality around the circumstances). To maintain the prestige of the award as being reserved for only the bravest acts, it was envisaged that in some years no nominations would meet the threshold and that was the case in 2012 when no award was made. In 2013, two Napier police officers, Senior Constable Bryan Farquharson and Constable Paul Bailey, were honoured for saving a teenage boy from the sea at Napier’s Marine Parade. Last year, Tauranga constable Deane O’Connor received the award for his courageous leap off a bridge into the Tauranga Harbour to rescue a survivor from a van that had crashed off the bridge.