Four Ellis County sheriff’s deputies are being honored with a medal of valor by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.

The honorees include Cpl. Jeremie J. Atilano, patrol deputy Ryan McConnelly, patrol Sgt. David B. McGee and patrol deputy Manuel Valdez III.

The four are being recognized for the heroism they displayed the evening of June 22, 2010, when they responded to a call of a woman trapped in a car that crashed and burst into flames on Farm-to-Market 85 east of Ennis.

Upon their arrival, the officers could see the vehicle engulfed in flames and could hear the screams of the Ennis resident, who was inside being burned alive.

“I watched the (patrol car) video,” Sheriff Johnny Brown said in an interview at the time. “This car is fully involved in flames. You can hear the woman over one of the deputy’s microphones, begging for them to get her out of the car, that she’s burning. You can hear her on the video, saying, ‘Please get me out of here.’

“I’m just very proud of my deputies,” Brown said. “It just shows what they go through on a daily basis. They’re willing to go into a fire to help you.”

The TCLEOSE further details the incident for which it is honoring the deputies.

“These brave officers emptied their fire extinguishers in hopes of controlling the fire and then used empty ice chests provided by passersby to scoop water out of a nearby ditch to pour on the fire, themselves and the woman as they took turns running into the flames to get her out of the car,” the website reads. “The woman, trapped because of a jammed seat belt and car door, was finally pulled to safety. It is for their quick actions and call to duty without fearing for the safety of their own lives that the officers were able to rescue this woman.

“It is for their combined efforts to save another’s life that the award for valor is presented,” the website reads.

Atilano is a 10-year jailer and seven-year peace officer. Connelly is a five-year jailer and four-year peace officer. McGee is a 14-year peace officer. Valdez served two years as a jailer and is a four-year peace officer.

TCLEOSE achievement awards are through a process that begins with a local nomination that goes before a judging panel with final determination by the commission. The number of awards presented each year is limited; efforts are recognized in no more than 20 separate events and or accomplishments on an annual basis.

“Nominees should exceed the normal expectations of job performance through acts of professional achievement, public service or valor,” according to the website.

Since the program began in 1990, only 74 officers have been honored for professional achievement, 98 for public service and 228 for valor, of which six were posthumous awards.

The 2010 awards include one award for professional achievement, three awards for public service and 29 awards for valor, including the four Ellis County sheriff’s deputies. Of the 29 awards for valor, two are being presented posthumously: one to officer Jillian M. Smith of Arlington Police Department and the other to officer Patrick R. Sirois of Nolanville Police Department.

Previous Ellis County-based recipients of the medal of valor include:

• 2006 – Texas Department of Public Safety – Terry B. Eaton, Vance R. Griffin, John R. Smith and William C. Werkmeister

• 2006 – Midlothian Police Department – Dustin Compton, Cody S. McKinney and Brian Woolery

• 2002 – Ferris Police Department – Harry Marvin Steinfeldt III – posthumously

• 1990 – Texas Department of Public Safety – Steve McKinney

Contact JoAnn at or 469-517-1452.