American Red Cross honors local heroes

Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 6:48 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — In one moment he saw a vehicle traveling against traffic. In the next, he was running across I-215 to pull a man from flaming wreckage, saving him from an impending explosion. 

"I just immediately pulled over to the side of the road … jumped out and ran across traffic," said Theodore Killinger, who waved off cars as he crossed. "When you see somebody that needs help, you don't think about yourself. You just go and help."

Killinger was eastbound on I-215 near 6200 South when he saw the westbound semi strike a vehicle traveling against traffic head-on. There was a split second after witnessing the crash when he said he could have kept driving.

When he first saw the truck driver, he was covered — head to toe — in dark brown soot.

"All I could see was just the whites of his eyes," Killinger said.

Seconds after Killinger and others pulled the driver away from the truck, it exploded, a fireball leaped to the sky and shrapnel sprayed the surrounding area. The driver escaped death with a minor head injury and a punctured lung. Emergency crews arrived and Killinger returned to his wife.

"My wife comes over to me and is just shaking and is like, 'Are you OK?'" Killinger recalled. "That was the first time it really occurred to me that I just risked my life doing this."

Killinger was among 15 people and one organization recognized for heroism by the Utah chapter of the American Red Cross Wednesday. He received the Adult Good Samaritan recognition. For the past 10 years, the Red Cross has recognized service in the community and raised money through an annual awards luncheon.

"I think recognizing those people and motivating others within the community to continue that mission of just really excelling and thinking outside of themselves is really critical," said Jessica Ballard, special events manager of the Red Cross.

Not every recipient at Wednesday's banquet was there for an extraordinary rescue. For Thora Hutchison, it was about persistence. For more than 20 years, Hutchison has averaged 750 volunteer hours at the Red Cross and Huntsman Cancer Institute. She received the Lifetime Award.

"Get off the couch, put down the book, shut off the TV and go out and volunteer because it keeps you young, it keeps you active and it helps people," Hutchison said. "Sometimes after helping in a disaster you go home to your warm bed and you feel very fortunate."

Another woman was honored for heroic action after a bus — full of Japanese tourists — crashed just outside of Cedar City in August, killing three people and injuring several others. Kristi Christensen, who was eight months pregnant, was traveling home from a vacation with her husband and two kids when she encountered the scene. With a background in nursing, she went from person to person stabilizing victims until paramedics arrived. 

"Looking back it made me realize that life is very fragile, that in an instant, life can change," Christensen said, "and what matters most is people, individuals helping each other, that's what matters." She received the Medical Rescue recognition. 

Diane Bates, founder of Angels in Action, a community service organization with the goal to inspire community members to serve and be "human angels," was recognized as the Community Good Samaritan. Her work has especially influenced refugees, homeless youth, Native Americans, veterans and orphans in Africa.

For the past five years, Sara Clayson, 17, has coordinated her own Sub for Santa project. She's gathered monetary donations and items to help a needy family in her community. This year she collected a significant amount of contributions for a family who was struggling with cancer and financial problems. She was recognized as the Youth Good Samaritan. 

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