As off-duty police officer Jorge Farinas drove through Elizabeth one afternoon, a teenager waving a silver revolver immediately caught his eye.
Dozens of other teenagers on the street scattered, but the 25-year-old officer pulled over. Guessing he was a cop, the teenager raced down High Street, still clutching the handgun.
The young, fleet-footed officer caught up to the youth and tackled him, according to Elizabeth Police Chief Ronald Simon, and since Farinas had no two-way radio or cell phone, he had to flag down a passing ambulance to radio headquarters, Simon recounted Friday.
“Farinas was a physical phenomenon,” Simon told a crowd of police and fire officials gathered at an annual awards luncheon in Mountainside, as he accepted an award for valor on Farinas’s behalf.
Farinas, a member of his department since 2006, was one of seven officers honored yesterday by the 200 Club, a nonprofit organization that recognizes exemplary firefighters and police. But he was unable to accept his award in person: As a National Guard reservist who repairs helicopters, Farinas had just been deployed to Afghanistan the day before.
Simon promised to hold onto the award — which includes a medal, plaque and savings bond of an undisclosed amount — until he returns. After the ceremony, the chief said this situation “is a first for us.”
“We naturally have high hopes and every belief that he’ll be back with us next year,” Simon said of Farinas. “He’s a part-time soldier, but he’s a full-time police officer.”
The six other honorees included officers who had confronted armed men without firing a shot themselves, or who swam out into a riptide to make a daring rescue, according to their supervisors.
“I wonder sometimes how it is that people get into this line of work,” marveled the ceremony’s keynote speaker, former governor Thomas Kean, who described their accomplishments as extraordinary yet tangible.
“Every day of your lives, you are doing something real,” Kean told the officers.
Those recognized were Summit Police Lt. Robert Weck; Detective Jonathan Vorob and Officer Erik Finne, both of the Union County Sheriff’s Office; and Elizabeth Police Department Officers Scott Pevonis, Michael Kurinzi, Douglas Fields and Farinas.
Weck was off duty when he rescued a drowning boy after leaving his own wife and child to swim out into a riptide at Long Beach Island last summer with just a Boogie Board in hand.
Vorob and Finne, whose job is to arrest fugitives subject to court warrants, chased and arrested an armed man on a rooftop in Elizabeth without firing a single shot, Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich said.
Elizabeth police officers Pevonis, Kurinzi and Fields were on patrol in August when gunshots rang out at the Oakwood Plaza apartment complex. After a man told them he was robbed at gunpoint, the officers spotted several suspects and started chasing them. One suspect turned and fired two rounds at the officers, who fired back, according to Elizabeth police. The suspects fled the scene in a getaway car, but were later apprehended.
Farinas, their fellow Elizabeth police officer who caught the gun-wielding teenager, is also the type who “likes to get in there and help” regardless of the danger of his job, said his stepmother, Leslie Farinas, reached by phone Friday.
She said the family was unable to attend Friday’s ceremony due to Farinas’ deployment, which came as a shock. Her stepson is not a “showy” person, but would have loved to be there to accept his award, Leslie Farinas said.
“He feels very honored, I’m sure,” she said. “I watched him grow up and play cops and robbers all the time, and I just thought it was a phase. I just hope he succeeds and stays safe and is able to do what makes him happy.”