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Crime Stoppers Honors Local Law Enforcement

photo by: Photo by Shelley Hanson

Crime Stoppers Upper Ohio Valley award winners gather Thursday at Generations Restaurant in Wheeling. From left are Belmont County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Nixon; Sherri Van Tassel; Brandi Gitlin, who accepted the In Memoriam Award given for her late husband Brooke County Probation Officer Steven Gitlin; Bridgeport police Officer Brad Mackey; and Belmont County Chief Detective Ryan Allar.

WHEELING – The Ohio Valley’s law enforcement was honored Thursday for their service to their communities during the first Crime Stoppers Upper Ohio Valley awards banquet.

The event was held 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 crash in Pennsylvania that was part of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Awards were also given to local enforcement officers and others.

Sherri Van Tassel, a partner at the Toriseva Law firm, was given the Community Service Award for her many community service efforts, including her work to raise funds for Belmont County Sheriff’s Department’s K-9 Division. She also formed the Community Outreach Program Effort during the pandemic.

photo by: Photo by Shelley Hanson

Roy Cavan, a retired FBI special agent, talks about his life and career on Thursday during the first Crime Stoppers Upper Ohio Valley awards banquet at Generations Restaurant in Wheeling.

Brad Mackey, now a Bridgeport police officer, and Belmont County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Nixon both were given the Valor Award for acting fast to save a man’s life who was having a diabetic episode. Chief Detective Ryan Allar was given the Career Award “for his stellar career and work ethic” during the past 25 years.

And the In Memoriam Award was given to the late Brooke County Probation Officer Steven Gitlin, who died in a traffic accident on Nov. 2, 2021. His award was accepted by his widow, Brandi Gitlin.

“Steven was more than a fellow employee to the probation department. He was a trusted and beloved friend who will never be forgotten. His life and loss have left an indelible mark upon his family, friends, and coworkers,” according to Crime Stoppers.

During his speech, Cavan talked about how his career got started with the Detroit Police Department in 1968. While he did attend a police academy, once he graduated there was little to no training on the job. He was given a beat to patrol and began his first day by himself.

“There was no field training. There was no radio. They dumped me off and I was on my way,” Cavan said.

He noted whenever there was a fire in his territory he had to run to the fire station and stand guard so no one would steal items from inside while the firefighters were gone.

Back then there was no ambulance service, so officers also had to take care of the wounded and sick at the scenes of calls.

“I even delivered two babies, two weeks apart,” he said.

By 1970, he was promoted to the Tactical Mobile Unit, a group of more than 100 officers that saturated an area to rid it of guns and drugs. He noted during one month, the unit collected 30 illegal guns. However, it was a dangerous job in Detroit. In a five-year span, 21 officers were killed in the line of duty, he said.

Cavan joined the FBI in 1973. Before he could, however, he had to go through a series of tests first and then an interview. During one test break, he came upon a bank robbery in progress and apprehended the robber. He called the test-givers to let them know he was going to be a little late getting back and why. He believes his work nabbing the robber at that time helped him get into the FBI Academy ahead of others who attended more prestigious universities.

“That had to have something to do with it,” he said.

He noted his FBI starting salary was $12,740. He started out at the FBI office in Pittsburgh and was eventually transferred to the Cleveland office. While in Pittsburgh, his office’s territory included all of West Virginia. Some of the cases he investigated there included the Gulf Oil building bombing in 1974 in Pittsburgh and the UPS package bomb in 1974.

After being transferred to Cleveland in 1978, Cavan said he spend a lot of time undercover with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang.

“I’d never ridden a motorcycle in my life. We hung around 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 on the Oklahoma City Bombing case in 1995. The bomber, Timothy McVeigh, knew exactly was he was doing and parked the van full of explosives right under where a daycare 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 the FBI could safely do a recovery effort was to tear it the rest of the way down. After that, they sifted through piles of rubble to look for evidence.

Cavan also investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, United Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania. He and his team determined the terrorists who hijacked that plane were never meant to be in that area, that one of them got cold feet. The original plan, they believe, was for the plane to loop back 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 he can hear the squeaking of the wheels of the beverage cart which is when they believe the hostages decided to use it to break down the door to the cockpit.

At the scene of the crash, Cavan and his team were tasked with combing the area for evidence and remains of the passengers, crew and hijackers. Because of the toxic fuel and substances inside the plane, it was a dangerous mission. He noted four of his fellow agents all died within about eight or nine years after being exposed to substances at the site, many from cancer.

Cavan also served overseas in Kosovo to help conduct a United Nations War Crimes Tribunal investigation there.

He retired from the FBI in 2002. Cavan noted 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 aren’t the best. Cavan now teaches Criminal Justice and Death Investigations as an adjunct instructor with 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 regarding a case. And any law enforcement agency in the Ohio Valley can use the accompanying website, www.crimestoppersuov.com, to post photos and information regarding suspects they are looking for. What makes the tip line special is that people are rewarded money for their tips.

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