Jail guard honored for actions
BY PORTSIA SMITH
Dec. 8 was supposed to be a regular day for Caroline County resident Mason Michael O’Roark.
Instead, it became a day he will never forget.
He had driven from his home in Lake Land’Or to Massaponax to do some grocery and Christmas shop ping at Walmart. And for whatever reason, he altered his usual route home on U.S. 1 and decided to take Interstate 95 instead.
That’s where he saw injured Virginia State Trooper Mike Hamer waving for help. He had just been shot in the leg after a struggle with a suspect on the side of the highway.
It was really all a blur, O’Roark said, but the next moment, he remembered being covered in blood and deputies pointing guns at his head.
“They thought I was the attacker at first when they saw the blood on me,” O’Roark told Hamer, 51, who remembers only bits and pieces of the moments immediately after he was shot. “I put my hands in the air and was like ’no, no, no, no.’”
O’Roark, a 29-year-old correc tions officer at the Peumansend Creek Regional Jail, was surprised at his workplace Thursday morning, receiving the Distinguished Service Award from the jail authority for his actions.
He also met Hamer for the first time since the day he saved his life.
“I lost almost half of my body’s blood supply,” Hamer told O’Roark Thursday. “You are one of the reasons I’m standing here right now. It’s unbelievable.”
O’Roark recalled the drama of their first meeting. After pulling over on the interstate and realizing that Hamer had been shot, he removed his favorite gray sweater and “used it as a pressure bandage until help arrived.” He also elevated Hamer’s leg onto his shoulder to try to slow the bleeding.
O’Roark said he kept talk ing to Hamer to keep him alert and even went to his car to get him some green tea because he kept saying he was thirsty. Hamer said he was feeling light-headed as he lay in the ditch.
“I remember thinking, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ But it seemed like you knew what you were doing,” he told O’Roark. “Psychologically and physically, it helped me a lot.”
‘IT WAS EITHER HIM OR ME’
According to state police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Molnar, troopers were called about 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 about an abandoned 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe in the median on the southbound side of I–95 just north of the Thornburg exit in Spotsylvania County.
The driver had fled into a wooded area after a special agent with the Department of Motor Vehicles tried to stop him for reckless driving, Molnar said.
About 30 minutes later and two miles farther south on I–95, a tractor–trailer driver who had pulled over to inspect a tire reported that a man approached him and attempted to gain access to his vehicle. Molnar said the man fled back into the wooded area.
Hamer responded and found Herbert J. Wheeler Jr., 32, of Chesterfield County walking along the right shoulder of the interstate at mile marker 116 in Caroline shortly before 3 p.m., Molnar said.
Hamer placed Wheeler in his unmarked patrol car, Molnar said, and a violent struggle ensued.
Wheeler tried to take the trooper’s weapon, Molnar said. The .357 revolver went off while still in its holster, striking Hamer in the leg and damaging his femoral artery.
Hamer returned fire with a 9 mm pistol, a personal weapon he had in his patrol car, fatally wounding Wheeler.
“It was either him or me,” Hamer told fredericksburg.com. “It was an unfortunate situation because I tried to help the guy, but I had to do what I had to do.”
Hamer fired three shots, two of which hit Wheeler in the head.
When O’Roark came upon the scene, (two unidentified women also stopped to help), he said he saw Wheeler in the car and thought he was doing a ride-a-long with the trooper.
“When I first came up, [Wheeler] was cognizant,” O’Roark said. “He knocked on the window and waved at me. I just thought he was scared. It wasn’t until later that I knew he was shot.”
Wheeler died the next day at Mary Washington Hospital. Traces of marijuana and some type of methamphetamine were found in his system, Hamer said.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Hamer, wearing a black suit and cowboy boots, said he had to have surgery in which a vein from his left leg was used to bypass the femoral artery at the top of his right thigh.
But he said he’s feeling better and should return to work sometime in March.
“The doctors say every thing looks good right now,” he said. “I start physical therapy next week, so I’m back on the road to recovery.”
His patrol car had to be scrapped because there was so much blood inside and a bullet hole in the roof, Hamer said.
Although O’Roark wasn’t physically injured, he did struggle mentally afterward.
“I started having bad dreams about getting shot in the head,” he said.
He didn’t tell anyone, not even his mother until about two weeks later. When she found out, she made a call to her sister, who had given him the gray sweater a few Christmases ago.
She sent him a new one.
O’Roark said he was truly caught off guard by the recognition from his coworkers Thursday.
“The duty of someone from the correctional profession does not conclude at the end of the day,” said jail Superintendent Sandra Thacker. “We are always on duty to render public assistance when the need arises.” On behalf of the Authority and staff, we are very proud of him and offer him our congratulations on a job well done.”
But the best reward was the thanks he got from Hamer.
O’Roark told the trooper that he had applied to the Virginia State Police in September, but didn’t take the test because he couldn’t afford a three-piece suit.
Hamer encouraged him to apply again—and use him as a reference.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419