Suburban Heroes: DuPage sheriff's intern honored for coming to aid of deputy
Frank Ficarra is only an intern, but he acted like an experienced sheriff's deputy when he came to Cpl. Eduardo Castillo's aid in a potentially dangerous situation.
The 22-year-old's split-second decision to approach an armed suspect de-escalated a potentially dangerous situation and earned him a Commendation for Excellence during a surprise ceremony Wednesday at the DuPage County sheriff's office.
Ficarra, a senior criminal justice major at Illinois State University, was riding in a squad car with Castillo as part of his internship with the sheriff's office. While completing tobacco compliance checks, Ficarra spotted the car of a suspect sought by West Chicago police that was parked in a restaurant parking lot.
When Castillo approached, the driver got out of the vehicle and began to resist. That's when Ficarra decided to help.
"I saw him struggling, but I didn't know what I would do," Ficarra said at the ceremony.
Unarmed but wearing a Kevlar vest, Ficarra approached the suspect, who quickly complied. Officials said a knife and illegal drugs fell out of the man's pants during the struggle.
The suspect originally was wanted in connection with a burglary but now faces charges of aggravated assault, possession of a stolen firearm, resisting arrest and attempted identity theft.
Castillo said he believes the suspect backed down when he saw Ficarra's 6-foot-5 frame and realized he was outnumbered.
"The person was larger than me," Castillo said. "(Frank's) presence alone made a big difference. The offender, I think, believed that he was my backup partner."
Ficarra said he was nervous but knew he needed to help.
"It was mainly just instinct," he said. "But it made me realize that regular citizens' actions can make a difference."
In preparation for challenging situations like this, Castillo said he always reminded Ficarra that their goal was to make sure they both got home safe to their families.
"It's hard because I am responsible for him," Castillo said. "But I think Frank learned that at any time, things can change."
Sheriff James Mendrick presented Ficarra with a plaque commending his fearlessness. He emphasized that others can be heroes, too, not just police officers.
Among those celebrating Ficarra's honor were his father and grandmother. Ficarra also was joined by his academic and internship advisers from the university.
Ficarra thanked his father for being a role model.
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