America’s Biggest Heroes of the Year

December 28, 2018 by John Harrington

Source: Bryan Bedder / Getty Images
People have thrilled to the exploits of heroes at least since the time of ancient storytellers like the Greek writer Homer.

We’ve always needed heroes, regardless of good times or bad. Why is this so? Dr. Scott Allison, professor of psychology at the University of Richmond, answered that question in a piece he wrote for “Psychology Today.” Allison said people need heroes because they improve lives and they are inspiring. Heroes elevate us emotionally, build connections between people, and inspire us to be better than ourselves.

There is no archetype for what a hero looks like. As we’ve seen this year, heroes can be homeless people, teens delivering babies, trash haulers, first-responders going beyond the call, celebrities putting their lives on the line, and teachers and aspiring rappers thwarting deadly attacks.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed media reports of some of the year’s exceptional acts of heroism to find the nation’s most notable heroes in 2018. The following people distinguished themselves by facing danger or working to improve the lives of others.

Click here to see America’s biggest heroes of the year.

Source: Courtesy of Montecito Fire Department

Maeve Juarez
> Location: Montecito, California
> Date: Jan. 9

Deadly mudslides devastated Montecito, California, in early 2018, leaving 21 people dead. It might have been even worse were it not for the actions of Maeve Juarez, a division group supervisor with the Montecito Fire Department, and her crew. Juarez’s team was sent to monitor a creek known to overflow during heavy rain. An unexpected gas explosion nearly killed Juarez, but she went back to the source of the blast to help people whose homes had just been destroyed. Juarez encountered a woman who suffered burns and broken bones after she leaped from her second-story window to escape the explosion and carried her to safety.


Source: Rich Polk / Getty Images for IMDb

Luke Wilson
> Location: Los Angeles, California
> Date: Feb. 14

Actor Luke Wilson might have had his greatest performance on Valentine’s Day 2018 when he was involved in a major crash on a Los Angeles highway. Several cars collided and one flipped, leaving the driver trapped as smoke poured out of the vehicle. Wilson and others freed the driver from the wreck and dragged her to the side of the road.

Source: Courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Kevin Bartsch
> Location: New York City, New York
> Date: March 28

When a man riding the New York City subway in Queens went into cardiac arrest, train conductor Kevin Bartsch leapt into action. Bartsch heard commotion from passengers and saw a man in distress, so he began chest compressions, even though it was against Metropolitan Transportation Authority rules to touch a passenger. EMT Christian Winn was stationed nearby and took over the compressions and prepared to use a defibrillator when the man’s condition suddenly improved. Bartsch and Winn were honored by the city for their quick actions.

Source: Columbus Police Department

> Location: West Columbus, Ohio
> Date: April 3

Police were pursuing an armed suspect in Columbus, Ohio, when they got an assist from an unlikely source. A man identified only as “Bill” tripped the suspect as he ran near the library, which Bill had been visiting with his granddaughter. The suspect dropped his gun as a result of “Bill’s” intervention, potentially saving lives — including the life of the suspect. Police said on body camera footage that they nearly shot the fleeing suspect after noticing the gun, only stopping because he dropped the firearm after he was tripped.


Source: Jason Kempin / Getty Images

James Shaw Jr.
> Location: Antioch, Tennessee
> Date: April 22

James Shaw Jr. says he’s not a hero, but he became one after he wrestled to the ground a gunman who opened fire at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee, killing four. Shaw himself was wounded, but that did not keep him from attending church later that morning. He also created a GoFundMe page that day to help victims recover from the shooting. The goal of $15,000 was reached within two days, and has climbed to more than $241,000. A similar fund was created on Shaw’s behalf and it has raised more than $225,000.

Source: Courtesy of Marietta Police Department

Nick St. Onge
> Location: Marietta, Georgia
> Date: May 15

Marietta, Georgia, police officer Nick St. Onge said he relied on his training to save the life of a young child. St. Onge received a call about an infant who was not breathing. When he arrived at the scene, he found the baby was having difficulty breathing and was turning blue. St. Onge gently gave the baby CPR until her breathing improved.


Source: Courtesy of Jackson Ramey / GoFundMe

Jason Seaman
> Location: Noblesville, Indiana
> Date: May 25

When middle school science teacher Jason Seaman encountered a school shooter in May, he reportedly threw a basketball at him and then tackled him. Seaman was shot three times and a 13-year-old student was shot seven times, but both survived. Seaman may have saved many lives. A GoFundMe page was set up for Seaman to pay his medical bills.

Rachel Thomas, Mike Wu
> Location: Mount Whitney, California
> Date: June 10

Coast Guard lieutenants Rachel Thomas and Mike Wu were off duty when they became part of an important rescue operation. The pair were climbing Mount Whitney in California when they saw three climbers fall more than 500 feet down a slope. Thomas and Wu helped stabilize the climbers, who suffered head injuries and broken bones in the fall, and called for help. The two were given commendation medals for their actions.

Source: Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images

Jesse Iwuji
> Location: Grapevine, California
> Date: June 24

NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuji is no stranger to dangerous automobiles. So when he was driving home from a racetrack and noticed a car on the shoulder of the highway had a small fire underneath, he knew it could be a dangerous situation. Iwuji, who is also a Navy lieutenant, helped the family of four get out of the car and away from the fire. Just after everyone had gotten away, the flames spread quickly and completely engulfed the van.


Source: Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

Zac Edwards
> Location: Orange Beach, Alabama
> Date: Aug. 2

Talk about taking the plunge. Shortly after tying the knot with his wife Cindy on Orange Beach, Alabama, Petty Officer 2nd Class Zac Edwards was approached by a woman who said there was a man in the ocean struggling to get to shore. Edwards jumped into the surf with a flotation device and tried to keep the man’s head above water. Because the current was so strong, both men needed help from a lifeguard to get to shore.

Source: Mulad / Wikimedia Commons

Shane Drossard
> Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
> Date: Aug. 3

In the first week of August, Shane Drossard of Minneapolis saved a woman who attempted suicide in the Mississippi River. The woman leapt from the Washington Avenue Bridge at 2 a.m., survived the fall into the river but got pummeled by the rapid current. Drossard, a homeless man living beneath the bridge, heard the woman’s voice and rushed to her rescue. After retrieving her from the water, he told the woman she was beautiful, that she had so much to live for, and he was not going to let go of her.


Source: Courtesy of Hastings-on-Hudson Police Force

Jessie Ferreira Cavallo
> Location: Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
> Date: Aug. 3

For Jessie Ferreira Cavallo, there is no such thing as off-duty. Cavallo, a police officer in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, was driving to work when she saw a 12-year-old boy climb over a guardrail on the Saw Mill River Parkway and tumble down onto concrete. She stopped her car, grabbed first-aid materials, and leapt down to where the boy was. Another woman helped Cavallo put the boy in a neck brace and splint, and the boy was then transported by ambulance to Westchester Medical Center.

Source: sx70 / Getty Images

Sonia Ramirez
> Location: Queens, New York
> Date: Aug. 4

Sonia Ramirez of Queens in New York City broke the fall of a 2-year-old boy, who had been dangling from the fire escape ladder outside his family’s apartment for five minutes on Aug. 4. The child attempted to ascend further up the fire escape before coming to a halt and releasing his grip. Ramirez did her best to catch the 49-pound toddler, but dropped him because of the fall’s velocity. Her efforts prevented far worse injury for the boy.

Source: Courtesy of Bogota Police Department

Michael Laferrera
> Location: Bogota, New Jersey
> Date: Aug. 12

It’s been said that rain on your wedding day is good luck. For bride Sabrina Torens and groom Connor Reilly, they’ll take Michael Laferrera as a sign of good luck. Laferrera, a Bogota, New Jersey, police officer, rescued Torens from her car after it was inundated with flood waters from a nearby brook. Laferrera stood on top of a police car as water rose to its headlights. He offered his hand to the new bride, and Torens grabbed his hand and climbed onto the police vehicle.


Source: Courtesy of Family of Chloe Carrion

Chloe Carrion
> Location: Fairfax County, Virginia
> Date: Aug. 14

Ten-year-old Chloe Carrion can take a bow for saving the life of her newborn cousin, with the help of YouTube videos. Chloe was home with her pregnant aunt. The aunt went into labor before she could get to the hospital and she gave birth to a boy in the bathroom of Chloe’s home. Her aunt handed the baby to Chloe and passed out after losing much blood. Chloe called 911. She then remembered YouTube videos she had seen about taking care of baby dolls, such as swaddling and cleaning the baby. Chloe even cut the umbilical cord, as the 911 dispatchers talked her through the procedure.

Source: Courtesy of County of Union, New Jersey

Leo Nunes
> Location: Elizabeth, New Jersey
> Date: Aug. 26

A 1-year-old girl is alive today because of the actions of Elizabeth, New Jersey, police officer Leo Nunes. The officer responded to a call at a residence around 5:30 p.m., where he found an unresponsive child — the child had been underwater in a pool for about a minute. He administered CPR on the girl and revived her. She was taken to a hospital where she stayed for 24 hours and was reportedly doing well.


Source: Al Bello / Allsport / Getty Images

Mitchell Rose
> Location: Brooklyn, New York
> Date: Sept. 2

A former heavyweight boxer notched his most important victory in September. Mitchell Rose, 49, was eating at an East New York restaurant at 11 p.m. when an SUV collided with another car at an intersection near the restaurant. As smoke was filling up the SUV, Rose realized the five women and a man were trapped in the vehicle. He used his “sweet science” skills to punch out the back window, slashing his hand with the blow. But the passengers were rescued and taken to a hospital.

Source: Courtesy of WFLA News

Taylor Grant
> Location: New Port Richey, Florida
> Date: Sept. 7

In September, Deputy Taylor Grant had been with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office for only 18 months, but he’d already made a positive impact. Grant scaled a wall that was much taller than himself, sprinted to a dock, and saved the life of a drowning man trapped between the seawall and a floating walkway. According to the wife of the man, he had been in the water for about 30 minutes.

Source: Courtesy of Cobb County Police

Mario Alexander
> Location: Marietta, Georgia
> Date: Sept. 9

Seventeen-year-old Mario Alexander helped save the lives of two co-workers at a Target store in Marietta, Georgia. After two people were stabbed during a robbery at the store, Alexander, a corporal in the Cobb County Police Explorer program, jumped into action. He placed a tourniquet on the arm of one employee who was stabbed in the arm, then put gauze and pressure on the wound of another worker who had been stabbed in the neck. Both stabbing victims were reported to be recovering from their wounds.


Source: Courtesy of Blaine Hodge

Blaine Hodge
> Location: Bakersfield, California
> Date: Sept. 9

When a knife-wielding attacker pursued a woman into a Starbucks, others fled — but not Blaine Hodge. The aspiring rapper and actor, who was at Starbucks for a business meeting, put himself between the assailant and the woman. The attacker injured Hodge, but the police arrived and grabbed the assailant. Hodge was taken to a hospital and listed in critical but stable condition after suffering at least seven stab wounds, including injuries to his right hand that may never completely heal. A GoFundMe page was set up for Hodge, who thanked friends and supporters on several videos.

Source: KARE 11 / YouTube

Jeremy Bourasa
> Location: St. Paul, Minnesota
> Date: Sept. 24

After firefighter Jeremy Bourasa exchanged wedding vows with his wife Krisa, he bolted from his own wedding ceremony to answer a call for a house fire. Bourasa’s wife is used to life on the fly. The couple had to change their wedding reception venue and chose to hold the event in the St. Paul Park firehouse. After three hours, Bourasa returned to the wedding reception at the firehouse and danced with his new wife.


Phil Baker
> Location: Memphis, Tennessee
> Date: October

Phil Baker is nothing if not persistent. It took him three years, but the Tennessee pharmacist was finally able to change a state pharmacy law to allow people to donate unused prescriptions. Baker is the founder of the Good Shepherd Pharmacy, which donates medicine to those who cannot afford it. Members in the program pay $40 a month and receive their medications at cost or no charge.

Joseph Smith and Missy Lathem
> Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
> Date: Oct. 14

A rare kidney disease put Lilah Joiner’s life at risk, but she was saved when donors Joseph Smith and Missy Lathem came forward to donate a liver and a kidney for her. Three-year-old Lilah was born with a condition called autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease, which causes cysts to develop within the kidneys and can lead to the loss of kidney function. After she was born, her kidney became so enlarged that it posed a risk for liver failure. Doctors recommended a multi-organ transplant. On July 31, 2018, exactly a year after she was put on the list for a transplant, Lilah had two living-donor transplants. Smith, husband of her mother’s best friend, was her liver donor, and family friend Lathem was her kidney donor.

Source: Team Goette / GoFundMe

Ashley Goette
> Location: St. Paul, Minnesota
> Date: Oct. 16-19

Ashley and Andrew Goette were expecting their first child but neither could have expected what would happen to them in October. In the span of four days, Ashley would save the life of her husband and give birth to her son Lennon. The morning of Oct. 16, Ashley was awakened by her husband, who sounded like he was snoring but in fact was gasping for air. She called 911 and paramedics took Andrew to the hospital. Doctors told Ashley Andrew might have severe brain damage. Ashley sat next to her husband and told him she was not going to have the baby until he could hold the child. A few days later, Andrew began to move and awoke with no brain damage. The next day, Ashley started having contractions. Her son was born the following morning.


Source: Courtesy of Paula Godwin

> Location: Anthem, Arizona
> Date: Oct. 29

A golden retriever named Todd prevented a rattlesnake from attacking its owner, Paula Godwin, in Arizona. The hero dog was bitten in the face by the rattler and taken to a hospital in Anthem where he was treated with anti-venom medication and recovered. Todd’s heroism was acknowledged in October when the dog received the first “Milk-Bone Dog of the Year Honor” at the Streamy Awards in Beverly Hills, California.

Source: Courtesy of KCRA News

Dane Ray Cummings
> Location: Magalia, California
> Date: Nov. 8

As a wildfire encroached on the homes of Magalia, California, in November, trash hauler Dane Ray Cummings was told by his adviser to cut short his route in the northern California town and get out. But Cummings stayed because he knew there were senior citizens along his route who might need help. As it happened, one did — 93-year-old Margaret Newsum, who was alone and recovering from a broken back. Cummings gently put Newsum in his truck and took her out of danger.