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National group honoring local prison officers

By Ronnie Thomas 340-2438

Correctional officers Richard Stover of Trinity and Darwin Halbrooks of Hartselle converge in Washington, D.C., this week for honors from the National Association of Police Organizations.

On Saturday night during ceremonies at Warner Theatre, the Limestone Correctional Facility employees and other officers from across the country will accept honorable mention TOP COPS Awards from celebrity presenters.

Stover and Halbrooks' awards stem from their quick response in alerting an Athens couple that their house was on fire and helping them escape.

An independent committee chooses one winning case from each state, U.S. territory and the District of Columbia. From among those cases, the top 10 become TOP COPS.

The 14th annual event will help kick off National Police Week.

The officers' families will be with them for the NAPO salute. Halbrooks, his wife, Catherine, and their daughter, Nina, 16, drove up Saturday for tours of Boston and New York.

Stover, his wife, Susan, and their daughters, Taelor, 16, and Jordan, 12, left for Washington early Wednesday.

Before departure, Stover spoke of the April 21, 2006, episode that earned the trips. It was a mixture of thunderstorms, lightning bolts and a wicked fire.

The officers were riding to work on Nick Davis Road about 7:15 a.m. when they spotted flames shooting from a two-story home. It was the residence of Donald Pressnell and his wife, Dewayne, whom the officers did not know. They called 911 and returned to the home.

"As we started up the driveway, he came out of the house," Stover said. "He said he thought he smelled something. I said, 'Your house is on fire.' "

Stover said doctors had recently done surgery on Dewayne Pressnell's eyes and didn't allow her to hold her head up. She was still inside.

"As Mr. Pressnell and I moved both cars out of the garage, Darwin raced inside to lead Mrs. Pressnell and their dog out," Stover said. "Mr. Pressnell and I went back in and tried to salvage some of their personal belongings."

Stover said while he was in the living room and Pressnell was in the kitchen, the roof began falling in.

"I started running and yelled at him and told him to get out," Stover said. "We all then sat outside and waited for the volunteer fire department to show up. The house was gone. It burned to the ground after lightning struck it."

Speaking by cell phone from New York on Tuesday between bus stops, Halbrooks said, "We did what we thought was the right thing. We didn't do anything for them that we wouldn't do for anybody. It was just another day, and just something that happened."

For that action, in August 2006, they received certificates of commendation from Gov. Bob Riley. And on Jan. 23 in Birmingham, the Alabama Retail Association honored them as Law Enforcement Officer of the Year nominees.

Halbrooks said he and Stover are pleased that the Alabama Department of Corrections is "getting some decent publicity. The whole theory of being imprisoned isn't a good view, and we take some knocks along the way. If there weren't so many good folks working at Limestone, it would be one of those jobs that nobody could do."

Halbrooks, 40, graduated from Hartselle High in 1985 and has been with the department 18 years.

Stover, 47, a 1978 graduate of Austin High School, who has been at Limestone Correctional Facility for 22 years, said no one from the Alabama Department of Corrections had ever won TOP COPS Awards.

Decatur native Richard Allen, Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner, nominated them.

Stover said the Pressnells' adventure had a good ending. He said their son rebuilt their home on the same site.

And they didn't forget their rescuers.

"On Jan. 21, at their invitation, Darwin and I attended their 50th wedding anniversary," Stover said.

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