Call him Sgt. Lifesaver.
For the second time in his 28-year career at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Michael van Buren was named Deputy of the Year by his peers at an awards banquet Wednesday. He’d earned the award some 11 years ago for leading the effort to add computers to deputies patrol cars, and for transforming a motor home into a mobile command center.
This year, van Buren earned the award for stand-out actions in two incidents. He was among the deputies who saved a 4-year-old child from a locked car in the Woodlands in the heat of July: he found the child unresponsive and provided CPR before the child was taken to a hospital in critical condition. The child, now 5, was at the award ceremony Wednesday and high-fived van Buren, who said he “just about lost it.”
“It was better than any award that could ever be given, just seeing him alive, interacting with his parents,” van Buren said. “It’s just the best experience, the best attaboy, accolade, whatever you want to call it that I think anybody would want to get. That’s what the job is about, saving people.”
Deputies Brett Wood, Greg Nunziato and Joseph Barnett, who were involved in the life-saving incident in the Woodlands, all got a life-saving award.
In the second incident, van Buren kept control of a tense situation with an armed woman who was verging on a suicide by cop in September. Van Buren was with two young deputies and a more seasoned one, managing to negotiate with the woman.
“All right,” he told her at one point, according to video footage of the confrontation. “Just put the gun down, OK? So we can relax, put our gun down so we can sit and talk.” He continued, his demeanor controlled and patient: “I’m at a low ready. OK? You drop yours, I’ll put mine away, I’ll come in, we’ll talk.” He eventually neutralize the woman with a Taser as she seemed to aim what turned out to be a BB gun at one of the deputies.
Deputies James Crosby, Fiona Ebrill and George Hristakopoulos all got the Meritorious Award for their role in that incident. “It’s more important that the rest of the team in each one of those incidents got an award,” van Buren said.
Van Buren was one of four deputies who’d won Deputy of the Quarter awards during the year. The selection committee then chose the year’s winner from those, among other men and women honored at the annual occasion, held for the first time at the sheriff’s new Operations Center.
“Just the fact that my peers picked it and the standing ovation I got at the end for it, that means a lot,” van Buren said.
The Detention Deputy of the Year is Justin Bailey, the Civilian of the Year is Sheri Gopie.For the 4th Quarter, Cpl. Michael Miller was named Deputy of the Quarter, Beatrice Rivas won the Corrections division, and Renina Fuller won the civilian division.
See the full list of awards below as released by the sheriff’s office.