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Detroit officers to be honored for life-saving efforts

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in September when India Williams was struck in the chest by gunfire while riding her bicycle outside the family home in northwest Detroit.

Within minutes, the tiny 7-year-old was placed in the back of squad car and began losing consciousness in the arms of Detroit Police Officer Eric Pengelly.

India's mother, also cramped inside, was holding on to him and praying. The critically wounded child was clinging to his thumb.

Pengelly pounded on the glass partition to get his partner's attention. They sped faster toward Children's Hospital, arriving six minutes after receiving the initial 911 call.

In an interview last week with The Detroit News, Pengelly and his team members recounted the chaotic scene.

Without knowing if an active shooter remained nearby, the officers didn't hesitate and immediately tended to India's dire needs.

"It's a flip of a coin. You stop and take a look around or you roll the dice and go straight in there. We got lucky," said Pengelly, who was joined in the effort by Officers Scott Moran and Radames Benitez, among others.

"The story will never grasp the entire incident," Pengelly added. "I've got 13 years in and I hope I never see that again."

The feat helped save India's life and has earned the men recognition.

The team is among 80 Detroit police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel being honored Wednesday at the Detroit Public Safety Foundation's 2014 Above & Beyond ceremony for providing service above the call of duty.

Police Chief James Craig and Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins are expected to present the honors at Cobo Hall that's predicted to draw more than 1,000 of Detroit's first responders, business and community leaders and public safety officials as well as honorees' families, friends and colleagues.

In a prepared statement, Craig credited the "monumental strides" in the Police Department over the last year to those who took the oath to serve — including the team that responded to the Sept. 14 shooting that injured India.

Detroit Police say she was struck by gunfire as two vehicles raced through the 2400 block of Charest. At least one suspect was apprehended.

Moran said that when he arrived India was on the ground and relatives were kneeling over her, compressing the wound. He scooped India up and placed her into the police car, he recalled.

"I handed her off and starting blocking traffic. ... I couldn't sit there and wait," he said. "I had to get her to the hospital."

The girl suffered some paralysis from the bullet wound. She remains hospitalized and engaged in intense physical therapy.

The special honor is humbling for the team, but was a "curve ball," Benitez added.

"It's second nature for us to do what we're supposed to do," he said.

Meanwhile, David Massenberg and Thomas Suchora are among the Detroit firefighters being recognized with commissioner citations at the event.

Both men rescued trapped civilians in unrelated fires that broke out this year in occupied apartment complexes.

Suchora, a senior firefighter, was among the crew tending to a massive March blaze at the three-story, 42-unit Jason Manor Apartments near Outer Drive and Interstate 96.

The 20-year veteran said the rig pulled up and found the structure was "just a big ball of fire." Residents, from children to seniors, had jumped from second- and third-floor windows. Others were hanging from windows or trapped inside, he said.

Immediately, Suchora and his team grabbed a ladder to aid the people hanging from the windows.

He then entered the building and ushered out several others trapped on lower levels, including an elderly woman attempting to traverse the thick black smoke with a walker.

"I've seen a lot of things on this job, but it still is mind-boggling to me how that building got going the way it got going," he said. "It burned to the ground right in front of me."

Suchora and other firefighters rescued 29 residents from the building. Several were taken to a hospital with burns and other injuries.

There were no fatalities.

Police later ruled the fire an arson and said it was believed to be linked to the sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman during a party inside the apartment complex.

For Massenberg, the honor was earned for locating and pulling a trapped woman and her teenage son from a burning second-floor apartment in a building on Denver Street in January.

The 27-year-old firefighter hurried inside, moving down a hallway through smoke and flames before he found the pair unconscious on the bedroom floor.

With assistance, he was able to remove them from the room. The son was handed off to other rescuers and Massenberg performed CPR on the mother until Detroit EMS arrived.

"It's good to be recognized, but I'm just doing my job," said Massenberg, who said he became a Detroit firefighter to follow in the footsteps of his father.

Massenberg said he later learned that the rescued boy, who had been placed on life support, did not survive. His organs were donated.

In addition, this year's City Change Maker award is being bestowed upon Mayor Mike Duggan for his role in the city's rebirth. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gerald Rosen is the recipient of the Integrity & Ethics award, and the Michigan Humane Society will get the Public Safety Partner award.

The nonprofit public safety foundation has invested more than $2.1 million into projects and activities that support public safety and has secured more than $80 million in federal aid to support Detroit's police and fire departments.

CFerretti@detroitnews.com

Above & Beyond

When: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Cobo Center Grand Ballroom, 1 Washington Blvd., in Detroit

Cost: Ticket prices range from $10 to $500. Sponsorship packages start at $1,500.

For information: Visit detroitpublicsafetyfoundation.org or call (313) 628-2169.