Larry Ogletree doesn't think of himself as a hero.
The Evans, Ga., man said he was just doing what he hopes anyone would do when he chased a runaway car, dodged traffic and stopped an oncoming 18-wheeler to rescue a 2-year-old boy inside the car."If one of my sons were in a life-threatening situation, whether it be that or anything, I would want somebody to do the same thing," said Ogletree, general manager for the American National Insurance Cos. office in Augusta and the father of three boys, ages 12, 7 and 4.
Ogletree, 40, had just turned onto a busy five-lane highway in suburban Martinez on his way to work Aug. 8, 1989, when he spotted the silver compact car rolling out of a convenience store parking lot.
"It just didn't look normal," he said. "There was something wrong. The wheels weren't turning or anything. Then I saw the child's head in the back of the car."
He also saw a woman, later identified as the child's mother, standing in the parking lot screaming.
"At that point, I knew what was happening," Ogletree said.
He jumped the median in his own car and parked, then began chasing the runaway car, which was traveling diagonally across traffic headed into the path of the oncoming tractor-trailer rig.
"I looked up at the 18-wheeler," Ogletree said. "His and my eyes met. He just understood and he, of course, applied his brakes. He was about 10 feet from the car. I was running the whole time."
Ogletree finally got close enough to grab the driver's side of the car, which was open. "I threw myself into it. I had a hold of the steering wheel and applied the brakes. The child was calm until I hit the brakes. Then he started crying. He was in a safety seat."
Ogletree, who escaped with only scarred shins, said he believes the boy's sister accidentally hit the gearshift when she got out of the car, allowing the car to roll.
The mother thanked him but implored him not to release her name or the names of her children, a request he has honored.
Ogletree said he didn't fully grasp what might have happened until that night, when he went to pick up his two younger boys at a day-care center adjacent to the convenience store.
Frank Spears, an insurance agent in a competing firm, has known Ogletree more than 10 years and said he wasn't surprised by his actions.
"He's that kind of a fellow," Spears said. "He is not one that sits on the sidelines. He is a doer, a mover, a shaker. If you go into a fight, you want him to be behind you."
"I don't think any of us were prepared for the fact that someone would have the courage to do what he did," said Carol Shearer, a volunteer at the Columbia County Humane Society, who met Ogletree, now the group's president, about two years ago. "He's been very modest about it."