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Correctional Officer Tina Cottingham | Heroism Outside the Fence

Updated on December 10, 2012

A Case Study

On a February morning, at around 6:15 a.m., Correctional Officer Tina Cottingham, a six-year veteran with the Department of Corrections, had finished working an overnight shift at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, and was on her way home in the City of Mauston, Juneau County. While driving on a country road, Officer Cottingham noticed what appeared to be black and gray garbage that blew unto the road as it was windy on that morning. She drove slowly and carefully around the suspected pile of trash only to notice that it was in fact a person curled up in the fetal position. Officer Cottingham turned around thus positioning her vehicle to protect the person from traffic and shining the headlights in that direction. She rolled down her window and with fearful suspicion yelled at the individual why he/she were lying in the middle of the road. She was aware of scams perpetrated on motorists by planting items in their paths as they drove so as to make them stop and hence victimize them. The person responded by saying, “I fell and I can’t get up.”

Sensing and seeing the distress, coldness and fear in the subject’s demeanor, Officer Cottingham was convinced that this person was in legitimate need of help. She exited her vehicle and approached the victim whom she discovered to be an elderly female with facial injuries that was trying to cling for warmth in the 18-degree cold and windy weather. After calling 911, Officer Cottingham withdrew a wool blanket from her emergency kit and wrapped the senior citizen with it once she was stabilized. She held her close to her body in an effort to provide additional warmth as they waited for law enforcement and paramedics to arrive.

While Officer Cottingham tended to the victim, at least two other vehicles had driven past the scene and failed to stop as if nothing was happening. This has troubled the Officer as the first few moments with the elderly woman were excruciating and “felt like forever” as they waited for the authorities to arrive.

A Sheriff’s Deputy arrived there and an ambulance soon after within 10 minutes of each other. The ailing woman was taken to the hospital and treated for her injuries.

I was searching the internet for news stories where members of law enforcement had done something heroic to save someone’s life either on or off duty. It was then that the story of Correctional Officer Tina Cottingham was found embedded in the search results. Once I clicked on the link, the story was first covered by an article from a public employees’ union website in which she’s a member of. Wanting to learn more details about the case, I searched the World Wide Web further for any news articles that could reveal more information. Not much luck was found there, so I decided to contact Officer Tina Cottingham via her government email through the Department of Corrections as am also employed as a Correctional Officer as well within the same department.

Officer Cottingham was humbly surprised by my interest in her story as she has downplayed her title of Hero given to her by the community. Nonetheless, she was very willing and generous in sharing more about her story, and that of the victim, as it happened from her own words.

The elderly woman that Officer Cottingham assisted on that morning happened to coincidentally be her neighbor from a mile and a half away, Theresa (no last name provided), suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She was the tax assessor for the township for many years and Officer Cottingham and her family have known her for over 20 years. After Theresa’s husband, Tom, passed away three years ago, she was being cared for by one of their three sons. Unfortunately, such son passed away a year ago leaving Theresa to fend and care for herself albeit her deteriorating illness. Officer Cottingham referred to her as someone selflessly willing to provide a helping hand to those in need throughout the years. On that fateful January morning, Theresa had apparently been lost and confused while walking through rough terrain from which she suffered broken bones and a bloody face.

Although hospitalized for her injuries, Theresa was able to recover from this ordeal and, as a result, is now being cared for by her next-door, daughter-in-law; the widow of her son that had been deceased earlier.

For her heroism, bravery and selfless actions, Officer Cottingham received letters of thanks from both the Juneau County Sheriff and from the Warden of the New Lisbon Correctional Institution, and was bestowed with the SALUTE Life-Saving Award from the Secretary of the Department of Corrections in Wisconsin.

When I asked Officer Cottingham about her values as a person and as a professional, she had this to say:

“My values as a person and as a professional are very similar. In my life and at work I believe in Honesty, Integrity, Respect of others, and I have the ability to Listen and lend an ear when needed. In my personal life I also have a habit [of] giving to someone in need. I do give money anonymously to people in need so I can make a difference in their life… Life often deals some people hard times by no choice of their own.”

It is very obvious that both Officer Cottingham and Theresa share much in common both ethically and in the adherence to The Golden Rule in the circle of life.


Allen, Bob. “New Lisbon Correctional Officer’s Sharp Eyes Save a Life.” Council 24 AFSCME Wisconsin State Employees Union, 25 Jan. 2012.

State of Wisconsin. Department of Corrections. “DOC Secretary Hamblin Recognizes Winners of the 2012 Secretary’s SALUTE Life-Saving/Valor awards.” 10 May 2012.

Cottingham, Tina. “Case Study.” Message to the author. 9 Nov. 2012. E-mail.


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