Vinton Town Council honors citizen for assisting police

Josh Blake (right) was honored by Vinton Town Council for assisting a Vinton police officer during an arrest when an attempt was being made by the suspect to disarm the officer, which could have resulted in death or serious injury to the officer or the public. Vinton Police Chief Tom Foster made the presentation.
Police Chief Tom Foster asked council to appropriate funds for the purchase of 20 Active Shooter Response vests from a Department of Criminal Justice grant. Council members Sabrina McCarty and Keith Liles examine the hard armor vests, which are intended to protect officers during active shooting situations, but are not worn on a regular basis.

Vinton Town Council members opened their meeting on August 15 by recognizing Josh Blake, who came to the assistance of a Vinton police officer involved in a struggle with a fleeing suspect in July.

The officer was involved in a pursuit that resulted in the suspect losing control of his vehicle and crashing. Two suspects exited the vehicle. The passenger complied immediately with the Vinton officer; the driver refused to comply and a struggle ensued with the suspect attempting to disarm the officer. When Blake, who was nearby, noticed what was going on, he assisted in subduing the suspect, later identified as Vincent Harrison.

Vinton Police Chief Tom Foster commended Blake for “risking his own personal safety.” He “took community policing to the extreme” and helped capture one of the City of Roanoke’s most wanted offenders, helping to end a situation that “could have resulted in death or serious injury to the officer or the public.”

“You have earned the gratitude of the Vinton Police Department and the community,” said Foster. Mayor Brad Grose commended Blake for “stepping up” in a situation many would have avoided.

Chief Foster next recognized Officers Andrew DiCarlo and Dustin Bray as the Officers of the Month for July. He also praised Sgt. Timothy Lawless for his actions in a motorcycle pursuit that resulted in the seizure of methamphetamines. Foster commented on the “amazing work that our police officers do every day, putting their lives on the line.”

Public Works Director Joey Hiner introduced two employees who have received promotions— William “Bo” Herndon, who has been named Assistant Director of the Public Works Department, and Kenny Sledd, who is now Utility Systems Manager for the town.

Vinton First Aid Crew Chief Wayne Guffey presented his monthly report on the activities of the squad for July. The volunteers accumulated 2185 man-hours, and had a unit in service 100 percent of the volunteer time, responding to 98 calls during volunteer hours on nights and weekends.

There were 130 transports in July— 79 by the career staff and 51 by the volunteers. Their fractile response time averaged 9.49 minutes, which Guffey said was longer than usual due to the distance from the station that many calls were last month, but still well within the standard of 12 minutes.

Guffey reported that the First Aid Crew now has 54 members— 29 EMTs, one advanced EMT, 14 medics, nine in training, and one “driver only,” Doug Adams. Three members recently became certified: Morgan Elkins as an EMT, Ethan Sweeney as an EMT through the new program at BCAT with Roanoke County Schools; and Assistant Chief Chris Sayre, certified as EMT-I.  Sayre has been with the crew for six years. He spent about 600 classroom hours, 1,000 clinical hours, and $2,500 of his own money to gain this certification which will greatly benefit the First Aid Crew and the community. He passed both tests involved on his first attempt, which is highly unusual, according to Guffey.

Vinton Volunteer Fire Chief Richard Oakes updated council on his department, which is undergoing some reorganization and amped up recruitment procedures. The volunteer staff has agreed to staff a truck on Tuesday and Saturday nights, intending to add nights as they grow their membership.  They are working with council, Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Chief Steve Simon, and Town Manager Barry Thompson to establish a recruitment process. Oakes thanked council for funding the advertising for the recruitment campaign.

Council members next passed a series of resolutions. They appropriated $4,057 to cover travel costs to send Detective Todd Bailey to the Forensic Science Academy.  He is one of only 12 applicants to be accepted into the current academy, which Foster said is quite an honor. The funds will come from the ATF Special Projects account.

Council also passed a resolution appropriating funds of $1,820 received from the Foundation for Roanoke Valley Melva P. Jones Fund for Music and Art to purchase equipment and supplies for the Mobile Community Services Unit, obtained through the 21st Century Community Policing Grant. Foster said that in the spirit of the “music and art” emphasis of the fund, art supplies will be purchased to distribute to children in the community as the mobile unit visits neighborhoods in the town. He reported that the unit, received only recently, is being used extensively for events in Vinton multi-family complexes and special events, such as the Fourth of July celebration, National Night Out, and the Gladetown Reunion, where bicycle helmets were distributed to children.

Council also appropriated funds requested by Foster for purchase of 20 Active Shooter Response vests. A grant was received in the amount of $5,659 from the Department of Criminal Justice, which includes a local match of $566 paid out of the police department’s operating budget. These vests have hard armor plates that protect the vital organs, and are to be used during active shooter incidents. They will normally be kept in the trunk of the police cars until needed, not worn on a regular basis. Foster and Mayor Grose stated that the vests “hopefully will never be needed.”

To reach the goal of equipping all 24 officers with this protection, the department will purchase four additional vests from department funds.

Council authorized the town manager to execute a previously discussed Performance Agreement that allows the town to accept a $50,000 Virginia Brownfield Assistance Fund grant from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership for the Environmental Phase I and Phase II for the Gish Mill property.

Council decided not to renew a contract with the Roanoke County Commonwealth’s Attorney for professional legal services, opting instead to utilize the services of the town attorney when needed.

Council was briefed on the request by Ty Braxton for a Special Use Permit to operate the “We the People Flea Market” in the former Colonial Downs Off Track Betting property on Vinyard Road, owned by Henry and Sarah Brabham. Karla Turman from the Planning and Zoning Department provided a staff summary of the project, which would involve both an indoor and outdoor flea market. A public hearing will be held on the request at council’s next meeting on September 5, with discussion to follow and action by council.

Turman explained that a Special Use Permit allows council to impose conditions of their choosing “to ensure the use will be compatible with the surrounding area and consistent with the purposes of the Zoning Ordinance– including limiting hours, types of items to be sold by vendors, requirement for business licenses by vendors, road access, and signage.” Memoranda from Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters, Police Chief Tom Foster, and Public Works Director Joey Hiner were also included in the packet of information for council consideration. Data on aspects of the operations at the former Happy’s Flea Market in Roanoke City were included as well.

Councilwoman Janet Scheid presented a report from the Litter Committee and stated that the litter situation at Lake Drive Plaza and at nearby BNC Bank after removal of the dumpsters located there has noticeably improved. She and Thompson both expressed their appreciation for Mike Bandy, manager of the Hardy Road Kroger, Bob Lewis of the Vinton McDonald’s, and the Goodwill store management for their efforts to police the area for debris.

Scheid ended the council meeting with a poignant remembrance of the victims of the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend and an appeal for citizens to stand up against intolerance and for civil rights.