Each year the Ulster County Police Chiefs Association hosts an awards dinner to recognize those in law enforcement and civilians who have gone above and beyond in serving their communities.
On May 8 the dinner was held at Novella’s restaurant in New Paltz, opening with the Posting of Colors by the Ulster County Sheriff’s Honor Guard, followed by Chief Civil Officer John McGovern playing the bagpipes.
Lloyd Police Chief Daniel Waage is President of the Association and addressed the audience.
“This evening I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all the great Law Enforcement agencies for making tonight a special occasion when we come together to honor the brave men and women in uniform, community leaders, and organizations that collaboratively support our mission and values,” he said. “I am honored and humbled to pay tribute to the Award recipients of 2019, the best and brightest among us – the ones who choose one of the most complex and difficult professions, the ones who wear the uniform and accept the greatest risk of all, as well as those selfless community servants who chose to support the law enforcement efforts expecting nothing in return.”
Chief Waage presented the awards, with a number of individuals and organizations being recognized in the Southern Ulster Times readership area.
Marlborough Police Officer Michael Sotanski received the Meritorious Police Service Investigation Award. In January 2018 Sotanski answered a 911 call of an armed robbery taking place at the CVS store on Route 9W. After tackling a fleeing suspect, a subsequent search found a quantity of crack cocaine, drug paraphernalia and a women’s purse. While interviewing the suspect Office rSotanski also noticed a vehicle in the lot that was stolen earlier in the day in New Windsor by the same suspect who had run over the car’s owner before fleeing. Sotanski notified dispatch and the vehicle was secured and the suspect taken into custody.
Several agencies received the Meritorious Police Service Team Investigation Award – the Marlborough Police and Fire Departments, the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police and the Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation. On June 6, 2018 after a structure fire in a Marlboro residence was knocked down, law enforcement discovered that the entire home was being used as an indoor marijuana growing and processing operation, using electricity that was illegally tapped via an underground system. A subsequent investigation revealed that five other homes in the towns of Marlborough and Newburgh were being used for the same purpose. Law enforcement recovered 350 pounds of marijuana, with a street value of $800,000. It is believed that this operation was part of a drug trafficking organization involving Guatemalan, Dominican and Cambodian nationals. The investigation is still open, with arrests being made and prosecutions pending.
Lloyd Officers Jon Lembo and Nicholas Paradies and civilian Danielle Zaccheo received the Meritorious Police Service Lifesaving Award. The three were involved in saving the life of the owner of Three Guys Pizzeria, who had collapsed on the sidewalk in front of his shop. Officer Lembo and Zaccheo administered CPR and within minutes Officer Paradies arrived with an AED. A shock was administered and the victim’s color returned, followed by the arrival of Mobile Life Services who transported the individual to Vassar Hospital where he survived the medical incident.
NYS Trooper Ryan Benincasa and Deputy Damon Alberts were given the Meritorious Police Service Lifesaving Award. While the two were investigating a domestic dispute in the Town of Plattekill they heard the sound of a gunshot in the area. As they looked for the source of the sound they discovered a shed on fire that was threatening a nearby residence.
They gained access to the home after removing an air conditioner and brought the residents out safely. The Plattekill Fire Chief said if these officers had not taken action, in all probability the incident would have claimed the lives of the occupants of the home.
Lloyd Justice Terry Elia received the Meritorious Citizenship Lifesaving Award. On January 18, 2018 while Justice Elia was having lunch at Vigneto’s restaurant in the Hamlet of Highland, he became aware of an emergency upstairs and went to assist. When the Lloyd Police arrived they found Elia attending to an individual who was lying on a kitchen floor. The victim was initially unresponsive, had a very high fever and was unable to breathe. He was air-lifted to the Westchester Medical Center where itwas determined that the victim suffered from a near fatal case of influenza. He made a full recovery and suffered no ill-effects from the incident.
Near the end of the evening the Police Chiefs Association honored former Ulster County Police Chief Paul VanBlarcum with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his more than 40 years of service to the county.
In his long career, VanBlarcum served the county as a Corrections Officer, a Deputy to the road patrol division at the Shandaken sub-station, a Detective, an EMT and also an Onteora School board member.
VanBlarcum also served in the UN International Police Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a monitor and as a Deputy Station Commander. After returning home he won a seat on the Shandaken Town Council, serving his community through 2005. The following year he was elected Ulster County Sheriff and served in that position for 12 years.
As Sheriff, VanBlarcum established the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team [URGENT] that resulted in 2,500 arrests, removed 339 guns from circulation, seized more than $1.5 million in cash and removed thousands of narcotics and pharmaceuticals from the streets of Ulster County.
In a subsequent interview, Marlborough Police Chief Gerald Cocozza said, “I am very proud of the guys for the work that they did; Officer Sotanski for his chase and wherewithal to notice the suspect, who kind of blended in and then we had the multi-house pot bust that bled over from one to six houses. There are two in custody and it is still ongoing that is being headed up by Ulster County Drug Task Force.”
Plattekill Police Chief Joseph Ryan said his department assisted Trooper Benincasa and Deputy Alberts. He said the annual dinner, “is a great way of getting our brothers and sisters from other agencies together to honor the heroes that sacrifice day in and day out. They deserve to be recognized and appreciated, especially the civilians that are out there and took it upon themselves to get involved, to stop a crime or help somebody or save somebody’s life.”
Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa said the annual dinner brings people together to recognize and honor the sacrifices made by law enforcement.
“We do it because we want to help and every one of us can think of a story on why we do the things we do,” he said.