September 12, 2020
By: Dwayne Page
For his heroic efforts in rescuing a drowning boater on Center Hill Lake earlier this year, Lieutenant Charlie Caplinger of the Tennessee Highway Patrol was honored this week by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
The Three Stars of Tennessee and First Responder Recognition Awards ceremony was held Thursday to pay tribute to public servants who have either risked or sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
Lieutenant Caplinger was among 16 recognized with First Responder awards for their heroic actions.
Greg Mays, Director of the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security, made the presentation.
“Lieutenant Caplinger is being honored for his actions while off duty in a fishing tournament on Center Hill Lake. While fishing he heard another man yelling from a distant boat whose partner had fallen into the lake and could not get back in the boat. Lt Caplinger and a friend immediately responded and due to their efforts they were able to get the victim who was becoming hypothermic out of the water and safely to shore,” said Mays.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the awards were not presented in-person as they have been in years past. Certificates will be sent to their respective agency who will then honor the first responders in a smaller setting. This ceremony has been a long-standing tradition in memory of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Three Stars of Tennessee Award honors public servants who have sacrificed their lives or suffered a career-ending injury in the line of duty. Director Mays, Governor Bill Lee, First Lady Maria Lee, Commissioner Jeff Long, and State Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) joined recipients, their family members and agency representatives to honor five recipients with the “Three Stars of Tennessee Award.”
“This event is very important to us,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long said. “We owe a great amount of thanks to the men and women first responders who sacrifice their life or their health for the safety of their fellow citizens. Our hearts go out to the families who had loved ones make the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. We are proud to honor them with this award.”
The Three Stars of Tennessee Award Honorees are:
Master Patrol Officer Spencer Bristol (Posthumous- Hendersonville Police Department; Trooper Matthew Elias Gatti (Posthumous)-Tennessee Highway Patrol Officer; Dustin Legieza (Posthumous)- Brentwood Police Department; Officer Jeffrey Creighton (Career-ending injury)- Memphis Police Department; and Paramedic Heather Birdwell (Career-ending injury)- Putnam County EMS.
First Responder Recipients are:
Officer Derek Caleb Couch, Johnson City Police Department; Lieutenant Sammy Shaffer, Knoxville Police Department; Critical Care Paramedic Stephanie Johnson, Morristown, Hamblen EMS ; Senior Firefighter James D. Nelson, Chattanooga Fire Department; Captain Joe Smith, Putnam County EMS; Trooper William Looper, Tennessee Highway Patrol District; Chief Brooke Haas, Nashville Fire Department; Officer Randy Cox, Clarksville Police Department; Firefighter Nick Greene, Clarksville Fire and Rescue; Officer Dustin Holley, Dyersburg Police Department; Field Training Officer Wesley C. Blankenship, Dyersburg Police Department; Officer Brandon Wheeler, Dyersburg Police Department; Sergeant Ricky Finley, McNairy County Sheriff’s Office; Sergeant Calvin Taylor, Memphis Police Department; Special Agent Robert Burghardt, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; and Lieutenant Charlie Caplinger, Tennessee Highway Patrol.