Avery County Officer Awarded Public Safety Medal of Valor During White House Ceremony

Last Updated on February 13, 2022 9:02 am

Avery County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Lee Buchanan was among 12 public safety officers to receive the Public Safety Medal of Valor during a ceremony by President Donald Trump at The White House on Tuesday afternoon.

On February 13, 2016 while off duty, Sergeant William Buchanan (Avery County Sheriff's Office, North Carolina) and Emergency Medical Technician Sean Ochsenbein (Putnam County Rescue Squad, Tennessee) simultaneously came upon the aftermath of a head-on collision involving two cars that were on fire in Elizabethton, Tennessee.

Sergeant Buchanan and EMT Ochsenbein quickly determined that one driver was already dead and the other driver was unconscious and trapped in his car with his knees pinned under the dashboard. Flames were spreading inside the car as both Sergeant Buchanan and EMT Ochsenbein attempted to free him. The damage to the car prevented the officers from opening the car doors, and EMT Ochsenbein, temporarily blinded by smoke, was unable to reach the driver after he crawled through the car's back hatch.

EMT Ochsenbein then retrieved a heavy-duty ratchet strap from his car and, with Sergeant Buchanan, attached it to the burning car's door and pulled it open. They were then able to pull the driver from the car and begin providing medical care.

If not for the actions of Sergeant Buchanan and EMT Ochsenbein, this driver, who ultimately recovered from his injuries, would likely have perished at the scene.

Sergeant Buchanan was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant. 

The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor is the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer. The Medal may be awarded by the President of the United States, and presented in the name of Congress, to public safety officers who are cited by the United States Attorney General and recommended by the Medal of Valor Review Board (the “Board”). Public safety officers must have exhibited exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her own personal safety, in an attempt to save or protect human life, where the act is deemed to be above and beyond the call of duty.




Replay of the ceremony begins at the 45:55 mark

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