VASSALBORO — When he saw the stopped vehicle along Interstate 295 one day last November and approached the driver, Trooper Connor Willard knew something was not right. Behind the wheel sat a young man in distress.

“Usually the first words out of my mouth are, ‘hi, I’m Connor, are you all set? Are you OK?,’ ” Willard said.

No, the driver said. He was not OK. So Willard, 27, invited the man into his Maine State Police cruiser, and for 45 minutes they talked about life, family and relationships.

The interaction did not register for Willard as extraordinary. “We all do it. We all do it every day,” Willard said.

It was a message from the man’s mother that later drew attention to the conversation. “I got teary eyed, knowing that the trooper may have saved my son’s life,” his mother wrote.

Willard was recognized Wednesday for his professionalism and compassion as one of 38 police officers and civilians to receive citations and awards from the Maine State Police. The ceremony drew dozens of police and their family members to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy gymnasium for the two-hour ceremony.

Maine Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Sauschuck thanked the men and women who sat before him, but also recognized officers around the state whose daily work ethic, human compassion and commitment to their professional duty is often unseen or overlooked by the public.

“You need to be acknowledged for the compassion that you show day in and day out,” Sauschuck said.

Big incidents, especially the use of deadly force, almost always become news, he said. “But what you won’t read are the countless times in Maine where our officers use their professionalism and their de-escalation skills to get out of deadly force situations without ever using force at all. And you need to be acknowledged for that work.”

Also honored was 51-year-old Michelle Holman of Corinth, a private citizen who was recognized for her quick thinking in a life-or-death situation.

As she drove to work in Augusta early one morning in December, Holman saw a vehicle pulled awkwardly to the side of the road, partially in the righthand travel lane near Pittsfield. The driver’s door was wide open.

“I can see someone kind of slumped over the steering wheel and thought ‘that’s not a good thing,’ ” Holman said. She pulled over and dialed 911. “I went back there and he said he had been shot, and then I saw the wound and the blood.”

The man was bleeding from his left leg after he accidentally shot himself, she said. The man had tried to fashion his belt into a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, but he could not cinch it down tight enough.

Holman, who worked on an ambulance as a teenager growing up in Stockton Springs, knew what to do.

“I wrapped (the tourniquet) around and pulled it tight and he was talking to 911,” Holman said Wednesday. “I quickly took care of the gun and put that in my car and locked it up. The biggest thing was I was trying to wave people down to help us but no one would stop. And there were tractor-trailers blowing by us, so it was pretty scary.”

The man survived.

Not every award was for bravery or life-saving measures.

Trooper Anthony Keim was recognized for leading a team that implemented Zoom hearings for traffic infractions, helping to ease a massive backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A team of auto mechanics, administrative workers and logistics personnel were honored for streamlining operations and improving maintenance of the state police fleet, which sees over 10 million miles traveled each year.

Another administrative and police team, including an employee of the Maine Department of Transportation, was recognized for developing a creative way to honor line of duty deaths during COVID, when it was difficult to provide the same level of in-person memorials. And 11 members of the state police tactical team were recognized for bravery for their role in ending a potentially life-threatening hostage standoff in which no one was seriously injured and the man who barricaded himself in his home was taken into custody safely.

Trooper Mickael Nunez received the award for wounds received, following a police chase on Interstate 95 that began in Fairfield in June last year.

Nunez, who was ahead of the chase but was listening to the progress on the police radio, laid down spike strips to deflate the car’s tires. With the devices spread across Route 3 in China, the vehicle approached as Nunez stood on the shoulder of the road.

The driver then veered toward Nunez, striking him and injuring one of his legs so badly it had to be amputated. Now, after more than a year, Nunez is back on light duty status, and is working toward a full return to the state police.

During the ceremony, Col. John Cote also named Detective Abbe Chabot trooper of the year. Chabot is a 24-year veteran of the state police who works in the Major Crimes Unit in Gray.

The agency named retired Sgt. Lloyd Williams as this year’s legendary trooper. Williams became a trooper in 1966 and went on to found the first state police K9 unit, training some of the first dog handlers in the state.

Another retired trooper, Detective David Preble, was honored for a project he undertook after leaving active service. Preble researched, identified and cataloged the service of every person who has ever been sworn in as a trooper. The archive is now available to the state police, for posterity and historical purposes, and to verify claims by people who say they had been a trooper.


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