Adam Heist, 42, received the Officer of the Year award from the Plant City Optimist Club for his studious and meticulous handling of a fatal hit-and-run in January.
Heist joined Plant City Police Department in May 2010 and has worked in the Uniformed Patrol Division and currently serves on the Traffic Management Unit. He has more than 250 hours of advanced crash investigation training and has served as the lead investigator for several crashes involving serious injuries or fatalities.
Each year the Optimist Club hosts a Respect for Law dinner. This year local students joined the Optimist members in a tour of the Police Department and then were able to learn more about Heist and what he does on a day to day basis at work. Following a motivational speech by guest speaker James Cole and the presentation of the award from Sgt. Al Van Duyne, they enjoyed a dinner at the department.
Van Duyne spent some time detailing what the TMU has to handle on the job. He explained that when there are serious accidents his officers are called out to use their extensive training and intellect to piece together what took place at the scene. Using pieces of debris, skid marks, the angle of the resting cars and other tiny clues, they are able to fully flesh out the chain of events leading up to the accident.
On the scene they often face difficult situations. Walking up on fatalities or serious injuries and having to care for the victim while also handling the investigation can take may unexpected turns. The more intricate the scene the longer the officers have to spend on site, sometimes working long into the night in the middle of the pouring rain to ensure every detail available is dutifully captured.
“Officer Heist was able to distinguish himself while serving as lead investigator on a hit and run traffic crash fatality that occurred Jan. 17 of this year,” Van Duyne said. “On this date Officer Heist was dispatched to serve in the capacity of a traffic homicide investigator to the crash that occurred on East Baker Street just west of Charlie Taylor Road.”
At the time, all they knew was a mysterious vehicle had struck a man that was walking northbound across Baker Street. Using their investigative skills they were able to determine he had been struck by an eastbound vehicle. The pedestrian, who was later identified as Arturo Martinez Ramirez, died at the scene.
Based on his primary investigation, as well as evidence collected at the scene, Heist was able to determine the suspect’s vehicle was a small, dark Hyundai SUV. The vehicle had stopped briefly after hitting Ramirez and then fled the scene, traveling north on Charlie Taylor Road.
PCPD sent a local bulletin out to all nearby law enforcement and the media and the vehicle was quickly found in Lakeland in a mobile home community. Heist went out to the location and identified the vehicle. It was taken into police custody as evidence and the investigation continued.
Thanks to multiple calls and tips from anonymous callers Heist learned the suspects, a male and a female, were attempting to flee to New York on a Greyhound bus they would board in Orlando. Continued investigation helped them find the business where the woman worked, and also helped them track down further witnesses, phone numbers and other crucial tips.
Van Duyne said Heist went above and beyond to unearth all of this depth of information and ultimately was able to identify the Hyundai was driven by a man named Emmanuel Mercado and also identify his passenger. By speaking to the passenger’s family they were able to convince the duo to return and speak to police. Mercado ultimately was charged with leaving the scene of a crash without rendering aid/involving death, driving with a suspended license/causing death and tampering with evidence.
Heist, a man of few words, simply said he was honored to have received this award. He said he tries to be fair and treat everyone the same regardless of where they are coming from or what they were doing.
“As Officer Heist’s supervisor I am very pleased with the enthusiasm and vigor with which he has conducted his investigations,” Van Duyne said. “He is extremely cognizant of the importance of compiling good leads, strong evidence and concise reporting and how they all must work in unison to secure a conviction. He understands the importance of seeking justice for the deceased and their families and he is a valued member of the traffic unit. I’m pleased to have him as an officer under my charge.”