Persons of the Year

Not your ordinary patrolmen

Fayetteville duo tends to downplay an avalanche of honors, awards and citations over saving a man’s life

By Maylon T. Rice

Don’t try to call Cpl. Phillip Crosby or Patrolman First Class Christopher Denton “heroes.” They won’t sit still for it.

But last March, both men exhibited the true definition of a hero: …showing great courage as men for their achievements and noble qualifications.

Thus, this pair of Fayetteville policemen have been named the Fayetteville Free Weekly’s Persons of the Year. Here’s their story.

On March 21, 2007, a sport utility vehicle driven by Sean Barnes, a 33-year old Fayetteville man, failed to make a curve, striking a culvert and sending the SUV and its occupant into a blazing inferno.

Crosby and Denton were riding together that cool spring pre-dawn morning and were just about a block away when a call came in about the crash. As they neared the vehicle, both men heard Barnes’ cries for help as flames engulfed the SUV. Both of the patrolmen said they “only did what we are
trained to do,” in rescuing Barnes. Barnes declined to be interviewed for this story and is still recuperating from the serious injuries he received.

While Barnes was entrapped in the flaming vehicle, Denton ran to the trunk of the patrol car to get a fire extinguisher. Crosby trying to get near the vehicle, spotted the injured man beneath the deployed air bags. As Denton began combating the flames with the fire extinguisher, Crosby began pulling at the door frame, bending it downward to create an opening to free the trapped man. Both Denton and Crosby kept up their attempts to put out the flames with the fire extinguisher until its contents were depleted.

Crosby used his hands to swat and try and smother the flames on Barnes’ clothing while the man remained trapped inside the wrecked and enflamed vehicle. Several times, due to the intense smoke, both officers had to retreat from the scene, but each time went back again and again to render aide to Barnes.

Both officers worked furiously to try and free Barnes despite the heat and smoke. Together they tugged on the door trying to bend it apart from the vehicle and used the empty fire extinguisher to smash out the windshield in hopes of gaining an alternate route to get to Barnes and remove him from the burning SUV.

They finally managed to pull apart the steel just enough to reach in and pull Barnes away from the flames. As they extracted the man from the SUV, the entire car was engulfed in hot flames and thick black smoke. The two officers pulled Barnes’ to safety as the Fayetteville Fire Department arrived on the scene to contain the blaze.

Both officers were treated for smoke inhalation and some minors cuts and burns. Barnes was taken by Emergency Medical Services personnel to a local hospital and later transferred to the state burn unit in Little Rock where he was in critical condition.

The episode lasted just a few scant minutes, but it is an event that garnered local, regional, state and even national attention for Crosby and Denton.

In August, the officers were recognized by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) as Officers of the Month for the entire nation. But the two men remain humble. In separate interviews both Crosby and Denton said that the honor is not theirs, but the entire Fayetteville Police Department’s.

“We have great training, great command and lots and lots of great officers here. Any one of them would have done the same thing,” Crosby said. “It is one of the things that you train for in law enforcement.”

Denton conferred. “You hope you are never in such an emergency, but with proper training, you will not panic, and lives can be saved. That’s what I have come away with from this event.”

Both officers have met with Barnes during his recovery.

“He is a very nice, humble guy,” Crosby said. “He is just trying to put this event past him and we wish him the best in his recovery.”

Crosby and Denton hail from southwest Arkansas where their respect for law enforcement took root. Although from different communities, the two men share a deep respect for the law. Each came to Fayetteville to stay perhaps a year or two, but Crosby has been here 14 years and Denton seven.

Denton was seeking to break the cycle of working for poultry companies or on a small farm when he went to work for an armored car company. After a year or so, “Police work seemed like a natural vocation for me and is sure has been.”

Crosby came to Northwest Arkansas to visit a brother who was at the University of Arkansas. He put in an application to be a policeman, was hired and is still loving the job.

Both men talk about the Fayetteville Police Department and its training, educational and vocational opportunities in glowing terms. Most attempts to talk about their “hero status” were met with quiet, yet honest efforts to steer the conversation back to the department they serve.

Denton may have said it best, paraphrasing a line from the film “Band of Brothers.”

“I feel like what Major Weathers said when asked if he was a hero in World War II,” Denton said. “The major said something like this, ‘I’m no hero. I served in a company of heroes.’”

This pretty well sums up officers Denton and Crosby and their actions on that early morning in March 2007. They say they are not heroes, but instead say they serve in a company of heroes, right here in Fayetteville.

Categories: Legacy Archive