WASHINGTON — When a Florida letter carrier noticed a white van casing houses on her route last year, she intervened, protecting a couple and helping police apprehend two wanted felons.
For her quick action, South Daytona’s Pam Pontius was recognized Thursday at an awards ceremony in Washington along with five others as National Association of Letter Carriers “Heroes of the Year.” Carriers from Texas, Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio and Michigan also were recognized.
Fredric Rolando, the president of the union that represents mail carriers nationwide, said people who worked for the Postal Service not only delivered mail to about 150 million households and businesses but also served as a first line of defense in situations that involved accidents, fires, crimes or health crises.
“We do so not because we’re supermen or superwomen but rather because we’re in neighborhoods six days a week,” Rolando said. “We know when something doesn’t seem right, and we often are the first on the scene.”
Pontius, a 29-year postal veteran who won Eastern Region Hero of the Year, was going about her route in January 2012 when she saw a van driving around her delivery area for more than 30 minutes; its occupants repeatedly stopped and knocked on house doors.
When a woman from the van walked up to a couple’s door, Pontius followed her. She overheard the woman tell the couple she could clean their house, and she offered a discount if she could clean it that day.
Pontius shook her head “no” to alert the couple. She then called a South Daytona police detective.
Police found that the man in the van had active warrants out for sexual battery on a child and witness tampering and the woman had active warrants for two counts of child neglect and witness tampering. Both individuals were taken into custody.
Their 12-year-old daughter was also in the van. Pontius’ intervention helped police reunite the girl with her grandparents, who are her legal guardians.
“I didn’t want to be in the spotlight,” Pontius said. “I was just doing my job.”
James Barton of Hopkinsville, Ky., was named the Central Region Hero of the Year. He was on his route in August 2012 when he saw a police officer struggling with a suspect who was trying to evade arrest.
The officer attempted to use a stun gun to subdue the suspect, but it appeared to have no effect.
Barton, with six years’ experience as a military police officer in the Army, left his mail truck to help. Barton and the officer got the suspect to the ground, although he continued resisting.
“I just started talking to him just to kind of distract him, which worked, and I was able to get his left arm out,” Barton said. “Once I got his left arm out and behind him, he just gave up and gave the right arm, and we got cuffs on him.”
Moments later, several backup police vehicles arrived as Barton left to continue his route.
Eight-year postal veteran Danny Thompson of Houston won Western Region Hero of the Year for rescuing two children before a fire nearly burned their home to the ground.
Thompson was delivering mail in June 2012 when he noticed smoke coming from a window air-conditioning unit on a house along his route. He knocked at the door, and two children – ages 12 and 14 – answered. Having noticed the smoke intensifying, Thompson asked the children to let him in to check the air-conditioning unit.
The children were locked behind burglar bars and unable to open the door, but they passed Thompson a key to unlock it from the outside. Soon after, the air-conditioning unit burst into flames, and Thompson escorted the children and the family dog out of the burning house.
He cut off power to the house and called 911.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker declared Aug. 9, 2012, “Danny Thompson Day.”
“I think we have a unique opportunity that the police and fire department do not have, because we’re able to see each and every individual in the United States on a daily basis,” Thompson said. “You need a set of eyes that really care about the community, and that’s what we’re here for.”