East Hawaii News

Correa, Okinaka Honored for Service to Community

March 24, 2014, 4:55 PM HST
* Updated March 24, 4:56 PM
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Two public safety officers were honored last week for their contributions to the community.

The Aloha Exchange Club of East Hawaii named police Sgt. James Correa “Officer of the Year” and fire Capt. Darwin Okinaka as “Firefighter of the Year.”

Correa, head of the Special Enforcement Unit in the South Hilo District, was honored for his leadership role in capturing two men who escaped from Hawaii Community Correctional Center in December 2012.

Correa lead East Hawaii efforts to capture Jarvis Higa and Ryan Jeffries-Hamar, who assaulted a guard and then fled the Hilo facility. (Sgt. Bradley Freitas led the West Hawaii effort.)

Capt. Robert Wagner noted that citizens were grateful for the long hours police worked to capture the fugitives.

“It can be very stressful to be given the task of apprehending two dangerous escapees, especially when everyone on the island is expecting quick results so their families can return to their normal lifestyle,” Wagner wrote in his nomination of Correa.

“There were many officers involved in this manhunt, but the direction, decisions and leadership of both Sergeant Correa and Sergeant Freitas were critical in ensuring both task forces worked together efficiently for their common goal.”

Higa was arrested in Ka`u two days after the jailbreak, while Jeffries-Hamar was captured six days later in Puna.

In accepting the honor, Correa, a 16-year veteran of the police force, credited everyone involved for the successful outcome.

“It’s a team effort,” he said. He also thanked his fiancée for being so understanding about his job responsibilities. “She’s the one who always has to change the schedule,” he said.

Correa said his father, retired chief James Correa, is a constant reminder that he has big shoes to fill.

Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares said Sergeant Correa was hand-picked to head the Special Enforcement Unit because of his extreme dedication to the department and to serving his community and because of his investigative skills.

“Sergeant Correa, you’re doing a fine job of filling those shoes,” Tavares said.

Okinaka was honored for his leadership, attitude and community service, having served for the past year as the facilitator for firefighter recruits.

Fire Chief Darren Rosario issued a statement describing Okinaka as “the firefighter’s firefighter.”

Since joining the department, Okinaka could always be counted upon for assistance.

“Throughout his career, his work ethic always exemplified the core values of our department: integrity, pride, commitment to service, safety and teamwork,” Rosario said.

Okinaka continues to take the lead in assisting with voluntary community service events with recruits including painting of the NAS pool parking lot, painting of the exhibit structures at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, providing first aid service at booths at the Muscular Dystrophy walk and American Cancer Society Relay for Life, as well as being an integral part of the planning and operations team for the annual Hawaiʻi Fire Department’s EMS Week Festivities and Fire Prevention Week events.

In becoming a firefighter, Okinaka also followed in the footsteps of his father, who also received a “Firefighter of the Year” award.

Okinaka said he never thought he would earn the same distinction.

“Thank you, Chief Rosario, for believing in me,” he said.

Okinaka also thanked his wife for her support.

The awards were given out Thursday during a dinner ceremony at the Hilo Yacht Club.

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