Champaign recognizes citizen heroes
CHAMPAIGN — The stories police and fire officials told on Tuesday night might have been a lot different if not for seven average citizens who did everything they could to stop criminals and save lives.
Jumping into moving cars, tackling runaway criminals, running into burning homes — the stuff of superhero movies were among the very real-life actions taken during the past year by recipients of the city's "Heroes and Helping Hands" awards. One man saved a woman with CPR, and another chased armed robbers down the street to relay a detailed description of the suspects and their getaway vehicle.
"Maybe that extra adrenaline kicks in, but I'm not sure I'd be able to do it," said council member Karen Foster. "I really appreciate what they do to save another person's life."
Take Gary Ducey and Bob Zebe, who in October 2013 were about a block away when they saw smoke coming from a house at 1107 Lincolnshire Drive. Ducey thought someone was grilling, he said, but the smoke got worse and worse. They went to investigate after calling 911, and when they arrived, found a garage fully engulfed in flames.
Zebe went in, found an older woman still inside and carried her to the front of the house. Ducey carried her across the street to get her away from the smoke and flames. Then they went back for the dog.
And if you ask them, they were just doing what they thought they should do.
"God put us here to help each other," Ducey said. "You have to be loving and caring and compassionate with each other, and this is what people do."
Upon receiving his award, a modest Zebe turned to the firefighters and police officers in the room and thanked them for their service — saying they are the real heroes every day.
"We were just in the right place at the right time," Zebe said.
And then there was John Walton, who said he was relaxing at home last year when he heard a man yelling at some women on the University of Illinois campus and turned over a garbage can. At some point, a police officer showed up. The belligerent man took off.
"I saw the cop get out of the car," Walton said. "I knew he wasn't going to be able to catch the kid."
Walton said it felt like a movie — he pursued and tackled the man. The man started punching Walton, and the police officer pulled the aggressor off when he caught up. As the officer struggled to retain the man, Ricky Eyestone — another award recipient — entered the scene.
Eyestone happens to be a retired police officer and helped subdue the man until backup officers arrived.
Walton said he was not considering the danger, and he just wanted to help.
"It was just one of those 'in the moment' type things," Walton said.
There were others honored on Tuesday night, too. Stephen Mysko was recognized for following two armed robbers so he could give dispatchers a good description of the suspects and their car — this seconds after being robbed and having a gun shoved in his mouth. Police caught the robbers quickly thereafter.
"Mr. Mysko's actions were beyond selfless and heroic and unequivocally led to the direct capture of two armed robbers," said Deputy Police Chief Joe Gallo.
In May, when Dale Wilt saw an unconscious woman in the driver's seat of a car — and the car still moving along Springfield Avenue — he sprang into action. He left his own car, dove into her driver's window, used one hand to press the brake pedal and the other to put the car in park. Emergency responders were able to revive the woman.
Jason Hart is credited with saving a life, too. When a woman went into cardiac arrest in January, he began performing CPR until emergency responders arrived and put her in an ambulance. On the way to the hospital, the woman regained a pulse and began breathing on her own.
Champaign Fire Marshal John Koller said Hart truly saved her life — full cardiac arrest situations often end in tragedy.
"That's literally a life and death situation," Koller said. "Those don't end well without someone intervening to save the life."