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Deputies awarded for saving lives

They put their lives on the line every day, but Monday Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley presented two Island County Sheriff’s deputies with state life-saving medals for their parts in saving the lives of others.

The awards were presented at the county commissioners’ meeting.

Corrections Deputy Clark Sewell received the award for his role in preventing an inmate from committing suicide in his cell in February.

As Sewell recounts, he was dispensing medications to inmates after dinner, about 5 p.m., when he noticed one inmate standing on a bench in his cell. From the tiny door window he could only see the inmate’s legs and part of his torso. Something didn’t seem right.

Sewell asked him to get down, and the inmate said he couldn’t.

“I had to kind of coax it out of him what was going on,” Sewell said.

When the inmate finally responded that the officer was going to have to come in and find out, Sewell went into action.

“Those are fighting words,” he said. He ordered a Tazer stun gun and alerted other officers on deck of the potential situation — although he still didn’t know what he was facing, without being able to see the man’s head.

Lt. Pam McCarty and Dep. Jean Smart came to assist Sewell, and as they entered the cell the man got down off the bench, but Sewell quickly saw his feet weren’t touching the ground.

It was then they realized that the man had managed to wind a bedsheet through the tiny mesh of an air vent grate near the ceiling, and was hanging by it.

“He was trying to commit suicide,” Sewell said. “I scooped him up and said, “No you don’t — not here.’”

A scuffle ensued in which Sewell pinned the still dangling but feisty man against the wall while the other officers worked to cut the constricting sheet away from his neck.

The inmate, from San Juan County, was taken to the behavior modification module and kept under observation for 24 hours where a mental health professional evaluated his condition. He is still held in the jail awaiting trial.

Sewell said he has worked at the jail for three and a half years, and has never had to deal with a situation like this one.

“It was my first and hopefully my last,” he said.

In presenting him with the award Sheriff Hawley noted that cells are only checked every hour, and that if not for Sewell’s observation and quick action the man could have succeeded in his suicide attempt.

Sewell has high praise for his fellow corrections officers who helped him prevent the suicide.

“For me, what make the job is my coworkers,” he said.

Sewell’s wife Staci pinned the medal on his uniform Monday while their daughter Amie, 10, watched.

Sewell also works with the Electronic Home Detention program, is vice-president of the Sheriff’s Guild and is a SeaBee with the Naval Reserve.

Deputy Scott Davis, who was not present to receive his award, was lauded for saving the life of an elderly woman trapped in her apartment during a fire at the Cambey Apartments in Coupeville in February.

As Davis told the story earlier for the Whidbey News-Times, he and Coupeville Deputy Dave Penrod entered the apartment building to evacuate the building, and a woman told them her 81-year-old mother was trapped in a burning room.

The pair of rescuers found the thick smoke made the room impossible to enter, so Davis went outside the building, where he could see flames in the living room of the woman’s apartment. He ripped off the bedroom window screen, climbed part way in and shined his flashlight through the dense chemical smoke.

As he called out he heard “a little voice saying ‘Help me.’” He instructed her to walk toward the light, and then had the fragile woman put her arms around his neck. He was then able to pull her out to safety.

Davis has served with the Sheriff’s Office for 14 years, is a senior Deputy, and serves as the president of the Sheriff’s Guild — Criminal Division.

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