PLANT CITY Officers who saved lives, broke up drug rings, nabbed drunken drivers and captured a fugitive were honored Tuesday at an annual banquet.
Nearly 400 people were on hand as four agencies named officers of the year at the East Hillsborough Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner. The event was founded after the 1962 death of a sheriff's sergeant in Plant City.
"No where does a community support its law enforcement more than Plant City does," said Bill Davis, a retired sheriff's major and chairman of the appreciation dinner committee.
The winners included:
Sheriff's Detective Anthony Collins, whose 2012 investigations helped bring down three major drug rings. Many suspects were arrested and seizures included crack cocaine, 40 pounds of methamphetamine and $39,000 in cash, Sheriff David Gee said.
"The people of Hillsborough County are really fortunate to have an officer like him protecting the streets," Gee said.
Collins started at the sheriff's office in 2004. He has served as a patrol deputy and goes undercover to break up major drug trafficking organizations, Gee said.
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Investigator Thomas Graef, who in the last year helped with security at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, investigated fatal boating accidents and helped nab a bank robbery suspect who was hiding in rural Manatee County.
"You can always count on Tom to do much more than his fair share," said Commission Capt. Leo Isambert, who called Graef an "awesome," dedicated law enforcement officer.
Graef joined the conservation commission in 2008 as a patrol officer. He was promoted to investigator last year.
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Anthony W. Palese, who made more than 200 driving while intoxicated arrests in 2012. He is so dedicated that he uses off-duty hours and vacation leave to help other troopers and law enforcement agencies with their DUI investigations, highway patrol Maj. Michael Thomas said.
"He makes me look good all the time, especially in the area of DUI enforcement," Thomas said.
Palese, who is very humble about his accomplishments, also made 27 drug arrests last year, Thomas said. He has been a trooper since 2000 and currently works the midnight shift.
Plant City Police Department Senior Patrol Officer Paul Tester, who was credited with saving the life of a woman critically injured in a car crash.
"His heroic actions saved her life," Police Chief Steve Singletary said.
The woman was bleeding from a major artery after a July crash near Plant City Stadium, and he knew he couldn't wait for an ambulance to arrive, Singletary said. Tester used his bare hands to close the wound until paramedics arrived to take over.
Tester joined the department as a patrol officer in 1998. His assignments have included patrol officer and member of the street crimes unit. He currently he is field training officer and a member of the emergency response team.
Each of the award recipients received a plaque, $500 in cash and $300 in gift cards from the event's sponsors.
The East Hillsborough Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner traces its roots to July 21, 1962, when sheriff's Sgt. Ben Wilder was killed and sheriff's Deputy Perry Young severely injured by a domestic violence suspect later slain by officers. The organizers, chiefly Plant City business owners, sought to honor all officers each year for risking their lives to protect the community.