Patricia Rupert has often watched reality television shows where rescue workers and bystanders jump into action in a crisis.
On Nov. 20, 2004, after a tractor-trailer plowed into the backs of three cars on a stretch of U.S. 24 near Henry County Road 3, Mrs. Rupert discovered that she too would instinctively respond to cries for help.
For her efforts, the Grand Rapids, Ohio, woman has been named the recipient of a prestigious Carnegie Medal for her bravery that day, when she mustered the strength to pull a young woman through the open window of a burning vehicle.
"It's quite an honor," said Mrs. Rupert, 44, the mother of two. "Here's an average stay-at-home mom who did this."
Mrs. Rupert is one of 20 recipients of the medal so far this year. The medals are given out five times a year and 8,981 have been awarded since the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was created in 1904.
The medal is given throughout the United States and Canada to those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. Each recipient is given a three-inch bronze medallion and a $4,000 grant.
Mrs. Rupert said she was told that the foundation received a Feb. 19, 2005, article published in The Blade about the accident and then asked her to complete an extensive questionnaire and write a summary of the accident.
She waited several months while foundation staff researched what happened and interviewed those involved before learning she had been honored.
Mrs. Rupert remembers with vivid clarity that Saturday when a caravan of youths from St. Patrick Catholic Church in Grand Rapids left to deliver food to a nursing home in Napoleon. Mrs. Rupert, at the wheel of her minivan, was driving her daughter and three other teens as a fill-in volunteer that day.
Traffic ahead of her slowed. But a semi behind them didn't.
The truck crashed into the rear of Jillian Badenhop's vehicle, setting it ablaze and pushing her off the road. The truck next hit a minivan full of youths behind Mrs. Rupert, then hit her vehicle, forcing her to spin out on the road.
After coming to a stop and making sure the teens in her van were all right, Mrs. Rupert got out of her minivan. She could see Ms. Badenhop's burning vehicle.
Released yesterday, a summary behind the award describes Mrs. Rupert's actions:
"Hearing Badenhop's cry for help, Rupert, although injured, ran to the burning vehicle. She found the driver's door jammed, but the window was down or missing. Despite growing flames inside the vehicle, Rupert leaned through the window and grasped Badenhop about the arms."
Mrs. Rupert is one of several Toledo-area residents who have received the Carnegie Medal. In May, 2003, Benny Carpenter, Jr., of South Toledo received the award posthumously for his bravery after he jumped into Lake Erie to save his brother-in-law from drowning.
In 1996, Shannon "Shane" Williams, the airport manager at Fulton County Airport, was recognized for his rescue of a teenage girl and her father from a crashed plane. The story was later memorialized in a short film that was a segment in a five-hour series of programs about heroes on the Hallmark Channel.
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