The State Worker

He rushed toward danger to save lives. Now this California state worker will be honored

Caltrans Workers Memorial 2017

Roberto Lopez remembers his father Jorge Lopez during the Caltrans Workers Memorial 2017 on the West Steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Lopez was one of four workers honored that died in the last year.
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Roberto Lopez remembers his father Jorge Lopez during the Caltrans Workers Memorial 2017 on the West Steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Lopez was one of four workers honored that died in the last year.

Caltrans tree maintenance supervisor Mike Quinliven rushed toward danger instead of away from it on two different occasions last July.

Quinliven, 29, of Willits, will receive a medal of valor from Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday for his acts.

He was off duty July 2 when he came upon what looked like a traffic accident on U.S. Route 101 between Ukiah and Willits, according to a Caltrans citation for a heroic act. In fact, a father and son who had been shot in their vehicle moments before he arrived, the citation states.

Not knowing whether the shooter was still close, he pulled the men from the vehicle and started administering first aid. Both had been shot in the head. The first aid helped the son survive transport to the hospital, but both men died.

On the afternoon of July 29, Quinliven was working on State Route 20 when he saw the Ranch Fire jump the highway. He notified California Highway Patrol and then, as escaping vehicles slowed traffic, turned on his emergency lights and drove into the fire, according to another Caltrans citation for a heroic act.

He found Honalee Newman parked on the side of the road with three children in the car, trapped by flames and smoke. Shielding his head from the fire’s intense heat with his hardhat and arms, he approached the vehicle and knocked on the window, signaling for her to follow him, according to the citation.

With just enough visibility to see the yellow lines in the center of the road, he guided the woman and children out of the fire. Then he helped law enforcement evacuate more people, the citation states. The Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex fires, grew to 410,000 acres.

Quinliven is the only state worker who will receive two state employee medal of valor awards — which a CalHR press release said is the highest honor in state government — at a ceremony Thursday afternoon in West Sacramento.

Also receiving awards are Phil Agdeppa, Gilbert Caldera, Pete Gavitte, Whitney Lowe, Chad Milward and Jose Serrano of California Highway Patrol; Benjamin Anderson, Thomas Britt, Broderick Carmichael and Lonnie Swartout of Caltrans; and Paul Melendrez and Christopher Wetzel of Cal Fire.

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