Honored for valor on duty; North Bergen police receive 200 Club of Hudson County Valiant Teamwork Award
Last January, a very tense and trying situation was unfolding on Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen involving a disturbed man, Guillermo Gonzalez, and his estranged girlfriend. On Jan. 2, according to police, Gonzalez poured alcohol over the body of his former girlfriend and set her on fire. A national manhunt ensued. Nine days later, a brazen but still enraged Gonzalez returned to the home of his former girlfriend and allegedly shot her. He disappeared, leaving the North Bergen police to work diligently on Gonzalez' apprehension. On Jan. 20, police responded to a call at the home of the wounded woman, who feared that Gonzalez had once again returned to the scene of the shooting. North Bergen Sgt. Robert Hovan and Officers Mark Johnson and John Martin were the first to arrive and acted quickly. Gonzalez was indeed inside the house, hiding in a closet. When his former girlfriend's son spotted him, Gonzalez fled the house by the rear door and entered the parking lot of the car wash adjacent to the home. As Hovan, Johnson and Martin surrounded the suspect, Gonzalez pulled a semi-automatic weapon from his waist. The officers drew their weapons, ordering Gonzalez to drop his. Gonzales took his own weapon and fired it into his chest. He died several hours later. It was the quick work, combined with the bravery and the compassion, that enabled the trio of dedicated North Bergen police officers to be presented with the annual Valiant Teamwork Award by the 200 Club of Hudson County at the 10th annual awards luncheon Wednesday afternoon at the Hi-Hat Restaurant in Bayonne. Carson Dunbar, the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, was the guest speaker. Glenn Cunningham, now a United States Marshall, was a featured speaker. Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, the president of the club, made the presentation of the awards. The 200 Club, established in Hudson County in 1984, was founded with the intent to acknowledge the achievements of law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel in the line of duty, to provide recognition for heroism above and beyond the call of duty, to ensure prompt financial support for the families of officers who lose their lives in public service, and to offer educational assistance to public safety officers and their children, especially in their time of need. An awards committee selects recipients and arranges for appropriate recognition of the deeds of valor. The 200 Club also offers several scholarships each year to public safety officers or their children who meet high academic standards, show exemplary character and have financial need. Wednesday's recognition marks the fifth time in 10 years that a team of North Bergen officers was presented with the Valiant Teamwork Award. "It's an outstanding privilege for our officers to be honored once again," North Bergen Police Chief Angelo Busacco said. "We have a number of officers who perform their share of heroic acts, but sometimes they get lost in the shuffle a little." Busacco said that he was happy that the 200 Club holds such a function to accentuate the positive work of his department, since there is also the occasional negative publicity about the department. "We're always saddened when a fellow officer falls from grace, but there aren't many times," Busacco said. "Unfortunately, they tend to get the most attention. We don't need heroic acts to show that we're on duty for 24 hours, seven days a week. However, without question, we have a ton of pride in accepting this award." Hovan echoed the sentiments of the chief. "It's nice to receive an honor like this and it's nice that there are people like the 200 Club that support the police and recognize their achievements," Hovan said. "Too many cases, you see cases where cops shoot first. Well, this was a case where the cops didn't shoot. It could have been a very bad situation for us. If we hadn't been there and acted the way we did, who knows what could have happened?" Johnson said that the officers don't go on the job daily looking to receive valor awards such as the one the North Bergen trio received yesterday. "We were experienced officers who didn't overreact," Johnson said. "We were just doing our job. It's nice to receive the honor, but we're not out there looking for it." Seven individual public safety officers received awards. Firefighters Douglas Boyle and Jeffrey Bruder of Kearny, Hudson County Sheriff's Officer John Karras, Jersey City police officers Keith Ludwig and Jeff Solokowski, Union City Police Officer Ricardo Ocasio and Bayonne Police Director Mark Smith also were honored. Five police officers from Weehawken received the Valiant Teamwork Award, which was the same as the one given to the North Bergen trio.