May 21, 2005 10:42 AM by Joe Blackmon
AMERICA’S MOST WANTED asked the public to identify All Stars — first responders who exemplify our nation’s best law-enforcement officer, firefighter or EMT personnel. From over 800 submissions, AMW had the tough task of choosing only eight finalists.
Voting was opened to the public at the AMW website, www.amw.com, on Saturday, May 7 and closed on Tuesday, May 17. According to the program’s executive producer, Lance Heflin, Detective Deanna Tofte of the Wichita Falls, Texas, Police Department came up the winner with an overwhelming lead over the other finalists.
Nextel Communications Inc. (NSDQ: NXTL) teamed up with AMW to honor the All Star. Detective Tofte will receive $10,000 from Nextel, as well as a VIP day at the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge with John Walsh in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday, May 21.
Tofte is with the Wichita Falls Crimes Against Children Unit. She was nominated for her work in closing a case in which a man abused two children – using a 16" knife to threaten and intimidate them. Over her career, Tofte has investigated 1,000 abuse cases involving minors. Although she’s one of three detectives in the unit, she’s handled more than half its cases in the past year.
"We put up eight finalists who were all really super heroes as first responders," program host Walsh said. "Some of these guys had dramatic rescues. We had a fire fighter who ran into a burning home by himself to save a boy, a cop who saved a gunman’s hostage and another cop who jumped into a crocodile-infested river to save a woman. But the public responded to Detective Tofte’s determined and persistent heroism as a defender of children. I think it’s a response to what’s happened to Jessica Lunsford and Sarah Lunde in Florida and Jetseta Gage in Iowa. People are paying attention, and they’re sick of seeing children abused and victimized."
Detective Tofte echoed Walsh’s sentiments, "I always think that things can’t get any worse than they are, and then a case comes along that’s even worse than the one before. Sometimes, it just hurts my guts and I can’t sleep. I hate that my job is necessary and I hate that there’s victims, but I love the fact that I can help give them justice.”
Tofte is a 38-year old mother. She started working as a police officer nine years ago and started working with the crimes against children unit five years ago. She resides in the Wichita Falls area with her son and husband.
The other seven All Star Finalists were Officer Johnnie Bennett – Sunrise, Florida; Firefighter Darrell Coates – Altamonte Springs, Florida; Sergeant Hector Feliciano – Los Angeles, California; Fire Captain Dan Holloway- Rancho Cucamonga, California; Officer Tony Mace – Grants, New Mexico; Officer James Niggemeyer – Columbus, Ohio; and Volunteer. Firefighter Robert Sands – Thornville, Ohio. More information on each finalist is available at www.amw.com.
AMERICA’S MOST WANTED: AMERICA FIGHTS BACK is in its 18th season and airs Saturdays (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. AMERICA’S MOST WANTED: AMERICA FIGHTS BACK is produced by STF Productions, Inc. Lance Heflin is executive producer.