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Caltrans Employees Receive Highest Honor for Public Servants

Medal of Valor Awards Bestowed for Extraordinary Acts

Date: May 17, 2018
District: Headquarters
Contact: Mark Dinger,
Phone: (916) 654-3145
Contact: Tamie McGowen
Phone: (916) 657-5060

SACRAMENTO — Five California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) employees who courageously helped rescue trapped individuals have been presented with the Governor's State Employee Medal of Valor Award.

"These men didn't think twice about putting themselves in harm's way to save others. They are truly heroes."

Caltrans Director Laurie Berman

Caltrans Maintenance Supervisor Shawn Morgan and Equipment Operators Steven Rhine, Matthew McCarter and Jason Heinz received Silver Medals of Honor for their roles in rescuing victims of a vehicle that landed upside down in the freezing American River on Dec. 28, 2016.

Morgan was on his way home around midnight when he noticed a group of people on the shoulder of the road and got out to help. After noticing they had pulled over to assist with a traffic incident that left a vehicle upside down in the river, he radioed Caltrans dispatch and his maintenance yard to get help on the way. Morgan then scrambled down icy boulders to the river and assisted a girl who had been ejected from the car and was walking around dazed. He also helped an adult female passenger up the boulders and into a warm vehicle.

Rhine, who also had been on his way home and saw the crowd on the side of the highway, climbed down icy boulders and went into the river and rescued the adult male who was in the driver's seat of the partially submerged vehicle. Rhine also dove multiple times into the water in attempts to free the boy passenger from his seatbelt.

McCarter, who had just started his shift at the maintenance yard, responded to Morgan's call for help, helped upright the vehicle with Morgan and Rhine, and also dove into the water multiple times trying to save the boy.

Heinz also traversed the icy boulders, returning over and over to his vehicle to gather tools to help in the rescue attempt. He also gave his coat to a victim to keep them warm.

McCarter and Rhine brought the boy to the river bank after the boy was removed by swift-water rescuers where Morgan administered CPR. Unfortunately, the boy did not survive.

Caltrans Transportation Engineer Theodore (Tad) Sampson earned his Silver Medal of Valor on Feb. 13, 2017, when he and three construction contractors joined forces to extricate the operator of an excavator who was trapped in a moving mass of debris on Interstate 80 near Baxter. The excavator operator was unresponsive with only the top of his hard hat and part of his hand visible when the four men removed him from a moving pile of mud, logs and debris. Within minutes, the men were able to free the victim from underneath the excavator and brought him to a safe area where they were able to clear his airway so he could regain consciousness.  Sampson was inspecting the contractor's slide-removal operations when this incident occurred.

The State Employee Medal of Valor award is the highest honor California bestows on its public servants. Governor Edmund G. Brown Sr. presented the first awards in 1959. Since then, more than 600 state employees have earned that honor for their courage and selflessness in the face of danger.

Shawn Morgan Steven Rhine Matthew McCarter Jason Heinz Tad Sampson
Shawn Morgan Steven Rhine Matthew McCarter Jason Heinz Tad Sampson

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