Tales of triumph over tragedy honored at first-annual event

Breakfast aims to promote victim awareness and rights
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Editor
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Stories of courage and community advocates turning tragedy or illness into action marked a first-ever victim rights breakfast held locally Wednesday. Placer County District Attorney Scott Owens hosted the first annual Victim Rights and Citizen Appreciation Breakfast Wednesday in Loomis to recognize Placer County law enforcement and its citizens for working together to investigate crimes and help victims. The event was held during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and on Denim Day, which raises awareness for sexual assault victims. Owens said he based the event off a similar regional event hosted by Sacramento County’s District Attorney Jan Scully to promote victim rights and needs. “Victims need to know there is a community and resources that will stand behind them,” Owens said. The morning’s keynote speaker shared her story of survival after she was victim to a brutal assault. Michelle Corrao was attacked and sexually assaulted by three men 15 years ago and now publically shares her story to raise awareness and inspire others to help. With the help from the detective, who Corrao said saved her life, investigators and the prosecutor on the case, the three men who raped and beat Corrao were sentenced to prison, in one assaulter’s case, for upward of 300 years. Corrao told law enforcement, victims right advocates and chaplains in attendance Wednesday that they may never know just how much of an impact their help has on a victim, but it’s highly valued. “They are going to remember what you did for them for the rest of their lives,” Corrao said. Following Corrao’s story, Placer County law enforcement leaders presented three awards to recognize community members work with victims. Fights for those who can’t Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner presented Harriet Salarno with the Public Safety Leadership Award. Salarno founded the nonprofit Crime Victims United of California in 1990 in the year’s following the murder of her daughter, Catina. “Harriet is a fighter for those who can’t,” Bonner said. Salarno was surprised with the recognition. “For the first time I’m at a loss for words,” Salarno said. She thanked her family for their support, in particular her husband. She recalled a conversation they had after their daughter’s murder that eventually led to continued work fighting for victims’ rights statewide. “He said, ‘Harriet, we’re going to grieve for the rest of our lives, but something has to be done to help other children,’” Salarno said. Traynor ‘heart’ of the community Auburn’s Virgil Traynor was bestowed the Heart of the Community Award by Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn. Traynor was honored for founding the Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund, which has raised $1.5 million to support a chair for basic science research at the UC Davis Cancer Center. In addition to that, Ruffcorn highlighted Traynor’s decades of work with the Auburn Rotary and his help in harvesting 20,000 pounds of vegetables last year for the Salvation Army, among many other volunteer activities. ‘Without her courage’… The third and final award of the morning was given to a young woman who also survived a brutal assault. The woman, whose name is withheld per Journal policy not to name victims of crime, was attacked in May 2010 in Roseville. The woman was walking from downtown Roseville when Justin Lee Mitchell stalked her, attacked and dragged her into nearby bushes. The woman was choked and sexually assaulted. When she regained consciousness, she pushed back, ran and screamed until she was free. She eventually found a house, banged on the door and called 911, said Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn. Mitchell pled guilty to charges of kidnap and rape and in May 2011 was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life. Hahn, and Sgt. Doug Blake, the lead detective on the case, presented the Citizen Recognition Award to the woman for her “tremendous courage.” “Without her courage, a dangerous person would still be on the street,” Hahn said. The victim said she was “honored” by the award. “Transforming from a victim to a survivor is a unique process I’m still going through every day,” she said. She said she was inspired by Corrao’s story. “I hope to continue speaking to help others as she does today,” the victim said. She thanked those who helped her, including Blake, who “kept me sane” and her mother who “has been my rock.” She also thanked Placer County Prosecutor Stephanie Macumber for her work. “Stephanie Macumber embodied strength for me. Seeing a smart, beautiful, confident woman …that’s exactly what I needed. She empowered me.” Reach Jenifer Gee at or follow her on Twitter @ AJ_Editor.