HOULTON, Maine — A group of seven U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents were honored in Washington, D.C., Friday afternoon for demonstrating bravery and exemplary effort during separate incidents in Houlton and Jackman last year.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commission David Aguilar presented the agency’s highest honor, the Newton-Azrak Award, to five of the agents: Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Erich S. Rohr and agents Christopher J. Dlugokinski, Gabriel Pratt, Michael Mielnicki and Abraham Reeder.
They were recognized for the rescue efforts they undertook on July 19, 2011, when a 5-year-old boy was killed after a Canadian driver fell asleep at the wheel of his tractor-trailer truck and the rig flipped over and spilled its tree-length load of logs onto the house where Liam Mahaney was asleep on a couch.
Shelbe Benson, public affairs agent for Customs and Border Protection, said Friday that the agents “disregarded their own safety as they courageously crawled and dug through the wreckage and rubble during the unsuccessful attempt to rescue” the boy.
Gary Mahaney, Liam Mahaney’s father, is a Border Patrol agent.
No charges were filed against the driver, Christian Cloutier, 57, of Quebec.
Police said that he fell asleep at the wheel, possibly as the result of a medical condition.
Border Patrol Agents Russell D. Radatz and Sterling W. Goldston were presented the Meritorious Service Award for Valor for helping diffuse an incident in Houlton on March 30, 2011. A Canadian man held police at bay for nine hours by threatening to blow up the Cyr Bus Line bus he was on in Houlton unless he was taken to Canada.
Radatz and Goldston were conducting an immigration inspection at the bus stop when they were approached by passengers stating that there was a man on the bus with a bomb. Agents boarded the bus to investigate and found Daniel Thomas Maccabee, 50, who refused to leave the bus. The agents saw wires coming out of the man’s vest and an object in his hand.
The two agents safely evacuated all other occupants from the bus and called for support. Members of the Houlton Police Department, Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department, Maine State Police and Houlton Fire and Ambulance Department all went to the scene.
Maccabee later surrendered and was arrested and taken to the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton. The device which Maccabee was holding resembled a detonator but turned out to be a Nintendo Wii game system controller, intercom wire, duct tape and a spiral-bound notebook.
Maccabee was indicted on one count of terrorizing and three counts of assault by the Aroostook County grand jury last spring. One count of assault was dropped before he was sentenced in December 2011 to serve 10 months in prison on the terrorizing charge, along with 60 days in jail on each the two remaining assault counts. He also was fined $300 on each assault count.
Benson, the Customs and Border Patrol public affairs officer, said Friday that the action of the agents prevented the bus situation from escalating.
Chief Patrol Agent Joseph Mellia said he was immensely proud of the agents.
“It is truly a privilege and honor to lead agents who display such valor and courage,” he said Friday. “Their disregard for their own personal safety exemplifies the commitment and honor they have to each other, and to members of the community, as they do their best to protect our nation each day from all threats.”
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe also extended congratulations.
“I applaud Erich, Christopher, Gabriel, Michael and Abraham, who each abandoned all regard for their personal safety in a courageous attempt to save the life of a fellow agent’s son following a tragic accident,” she said. “Indeed, their uncommon valor in the course of action demonstrates their unwavering commitment to one another, as well as their devotion to protecting our great state of Maine and the nation. I congratulate them on this well-placed honor and thank them for their tremendous service to our country.”
The Newton-Azrak Award is named after Border Patrol Agents Theodore L. Newton Jr. and George F. Azrak, who were murdered in 1967 near Oak Grove, Calif. The annual award is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon its recipients for acts of bravery and heroism. It serves as a reminder of the dangers and sacrifices demanded of the men and women who protect the nation’s borders.