EFFINGHAM — Two Evergreen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center employees were honored this week with the Citizen Service Award given by Effingham Police Chief Jason McFarland for their assistance to an unsupervised toddler.

McFarland said at a recent city council meeting Heidi Denney and Jessica Pettyjohn spotted the toddler in the early morning hours of June 21 near the nursing and rehabilitation facility. He said the toddler was walking down the street wearing only a diaper.

“They contacted the police department and proceeded to assist the toddler,” McFarland said of Denney and Pettyjohn. “They cleaned the toddler up, clothed and fed the toddler as officers attempted to locate the guardians.”

McFarland said the area in which the toddler was found has several busy roadways and is near the interstate. He said had it not been for Denney and Pettyjohn’s proper reporting and care for the tot, the situation could have been a tragic one.

The toddler’s guardians were eventually located, and the child was reunited with them. McFarland said the care the two woman provided the toddler in the situation was exemplary.

“Your proper reporting, concern and compassion during this incident reflects highly not only of yourself but also the image and reputation of the entire city of Effingham and its citizens,” McFarland said to the women.

Denney and Pettyjohn each received plaques recognizing their efforts and were met with applause and handshakes from the council and city staff during the meeting.

McFarland said on Thursday that the Citizen Service recognition involves a member of the police department who encounters a member of the community going above and beyond to help or assist in a situation.

The officer involved then makes a nomination, and the award recipients are chosen by McFarland.

Meanwhile, the council was also introduced to the city police department’s newest K-9, Kona.

Accompanying Kona at the meeting was her handler, Officer Jake Lustig. Lustig said Kona is a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois from the Netherlands.

Lustig and Kona went through a six-week training course in Indiana, where Kona was trained to detect narcotics, to track and also apprehend criminals.

Kona was chosen, in part, McFarland said, in anticipation of the pending recreational use of cannabis law because the department needs K-9s that are not trained to detect the odor of cannabis.

McFarland said Thursday that K-9s like Kona are purchased with K-9 program funds collected through community donations, and the K-9’s care and equipment are paid for through such donations. He said Kona replaces K-9 Narco, who was recently retired.

Lustig said despite Kona’s age, she has taken to training well.

“She is still young, and we’ve got a lot of work to do still. She’s a very good dog (and) very social dog, but she’s also very intense at the same time. She loves to do her job,” Lustig said.

Lustig said he plans to continue working with Kona and is looking to have a long career with her as a K-9 unit.

McFarland said Lustig was previously a K-9 handler with the Carbondale Police Department, is a certified K-9 trainer and is certified by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to certify K-9s in the State of Illinois for narcotics detection.

Lustig said that Kona will be an asset to the department and to the city.

“I got pretty lucky with her. I think she’s going to do good for our city,” Lustig said.

The department is currently raising funds to replace K-9 Joeri, who was retired earlier this year.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.


Kaitlin Cordes covers Effingham County, police and courts and sports features for the Effingham Daily News. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. Cordes is a native of Effingham.

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