WHEELING — Ohio Valley law enforcement was honored Thursday for their service to their communities at the inaugural Crime Stoppers Upper Ohio Valley Awards Banquet.
The event took place at Generations restaurant in Wheeling.
The dinner’s keynote speaker was Roy Cavan, a retired FBI special agent who investigated thousands of cases during his career, including large-scale events such as the Oklahoma City bombing. and the United Flight 93 terrorist hijacking accident in Pennsylvania that was part of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Awards were also given to local law enforcement officers and others.
Sherri Van Tassel, a partner at the law firm Toriseva, received the community service award for her many community service efforts, including her fundraising work for the K-9 Division of the Belmont County Sheriff’s Department. She also formed the Community Outreach Program Effort during the pandemic.
picture by: Photo by Shelley Hanson
Brad Mackey, now a Bridgeport police officer, and Belmont County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Nixon were both awarded the bravery award for acting quickly to save the life of a man who had an episode of diabetes. Chief Detective Ryan Allar received the career award “for his distinguished career and work ethic” over the past 25 years.
And the In Memoriam award was presented to the late Brooke County probation officer Steven Gitlin, who died in a traffic accident on November 2, 2021. His award was accepted by his widow, Brandi Gitlin.
“Steven was more than a colleague in the probation service. He was a trusted and beloved friend who will never be forgotten. His life and his loss left an indelible mark on his family, friends and colleagues,” according to Crime Stoppers.
During his speech, Cavan explained how his career began with the Detroit Police Department in 1968. Although he attended a police academy, upon graduation there was little to no training on the heap. He had time to patrol and started his first day on his own.
“There was no on-the-job training. There was no radio. They dumped me and I was on my way,” Cavan said.
He noted that whenever there was a fire in his territory, he had to run to the fire station and stand guard so that no one stole items inside while the firefighters were gone.
At the time, there was no ambulance service, so officers also had to deal with the injured and sick at the scene of calls.
“I even gave birth to two babies, two weeks apart,” he said.
In 1970 he was promoted to the Tactical Mobile Unit, a group of over 100 officers who saturated an area to clear it of guns and drugs. He noted that in one month the unit collected 30 illegal weapons. However, it was dangerous work in Detroit. In five years, 21 officers have been killed in the line of duty, he said.
Cavan joined the FBI in 1973. Before he could, however, he first had to pass a series of tests and then an interview. During a test break, he came across a bank robbery in progress and apprehended the thief. He called the testers to let them know he was going to be a little late coming back and why. He believes his work to catch the thief at the time helped him get into the FBI Academy before others who attended more prestigious universities.
“It had to have something to do with it,” he said.
He noted that his starting salary at the FBI was $12,740. He started at the FBI office in Pittsburgh and eventually moved to the Cleveland office. While in Pittsburgh, his office territory included all of West Virginia. Some of the cases he investigated included the 1974 Gulf Oil building bombing in Pittsburgh and the 1974 UPS package bomb.
After transferring to Cleveland in 1978, Cavan said he spent a lot of time undercover with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang.
“I had never ridden a motorcycle in my life. We hung out in bars. It was interesting,” he said.
Years later, Cavan was promoted to the Evidence Response Team. It was with this team that he worked the Oklahoma City bombing case in 1995. The suicide bomber, Timothy McVeigh, knew exactly what he was doing and parked the van full of explosives just under where a day care center was located inside the federal building.
“The hardest part was finding hearts on the walls left over from Valentine’s Day and toys,” he said.
Since the building was so damaged, the only way for the FBI to make a safe recovery effort was to tear it down to the bottom. After that, they sifted through piles of rubble looking for evidence.
Cavan also investigated the September 11, 2001 crash of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. He and his team determined that the terrorists who hijacked this plane were never supposed to be in this area, one of them got cold feet. The original plan, they say, was for the plane to return to Washington, D.C.
“I’ve listened to the recording 100 times and I hear something different every time,” he said.
Cavan said on the recording that he could hear the squeal of the drinks cart wheels, which is when they believe the hostages decided to use it to kick down the cockpit door.
At the scene of the crash, Cavan and his team were tasked with searching the area for evidence and remains of the passengers, crew and hijackers. Due to the fuel and toxic substances inside the plane, it was a dangerous mission. He noted that four of his fellow officers all died within eight or nine years of being exposed to substances at the site, many of them cancer.
Cavan also served overseas in Kosovo to help lead a United Nations War Crimes Tribunal investigation there.
He retired from the FBI in 2002. Cavan noted that he was not the best student in high school and later in college, adding that teenagers should not give up on pursuing higher education or a career even if their grades are not the best. Cavan now teaches criminal justice and death investigation as an adjunct instructor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio.
Crime Stoppers is an anonymous tip line, 877-847-7487, that can be used by anyone who has a tip about a case. And any law enforcement agency in the Ohio Valley can use the associated website, www.crimestoppersuov.com, to post photos and information about the suspects they are looking for. What makes the tip line special is that people are rewarded with money for their tips.