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American Red Cross Event Honors Daring and Dedicated Local Heroes

Humboldt Heroes logo
"We look forward to it being another afternoon filled with amazing stories of the strength of spirit that is so alive in Humboldt County." - Barbara Caldwell, the Executive Director, American Red Cross Humboldt County Chapter

On February 22, 2013, the Humboldt County Chapter of the American Red Cross will once again honor local citizens who were nominated by the community for their extraordinary compassion, service, and commitment. “This is the 11th year we are holding this event, “ said Barbara Caldwell, the Executive Director of the chapter, “ and we look forward to it being another afternoon filled with amazing stories of the strength of spirit that is so alive in Humboldt County. We expect over 200 people to attend the luncheon to help us honor our Heroes and to raise funds to support the chapters continued work.”

This year’s heroes include four young men who went to the aid of a local surfer who had been ferociously bitten by a shark; a Boy Scout who rescued a fellow Scout from a hive of attacking yellow jackets; and a rescue team who swam hundreds of yards in the dead of a January night before a successful search for an injured man in a marshland. (The complete list follows).

This reservation-only event will be held on Friday, February 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the River Lodge in Fortuna. Those wishing to attend the reservation-only fundraiser should call Barbara Caldwell, Executive Director of the Red Cross, at (707) 443-4521. Guests are encouraged to contribute the suggested minimum donation of $75.

The emcee for the Humboldt Heroes Luncheon will be Rex Bohn, well-known public speaker and supporter of many community events. The luncheon will be catered by Shamus T. Bones.

There are 26 businesses and organizations sponsoring the luncheon. Gold Sponsors include Coast Central Credit Union, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, St. Joseph Health System and Wells Fargo. Silver Sponsors include California Conservation Corps, L & M Renner Inc., Mercer-Fraser, Inc, and Visiting Angels. A committee of community leaders chose the winners to be honored at this moving event.


Deputies Dennis Gagnon and Michael Coonfield, EXCEPTIONAL BRAVERY IN THE LINE OF DUTY. On November 16, 2011, Sheriff Deputies Gagnon (a resident of Eureka) and Coonfield (from McKinleyville), both members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, traveled to Hoopa where, at great risk to themselves, they safely disposed of a large cache of dynamite and blasting agent. If exploded, this material could have caused severe damage to downtown Hoopa.

“DJ” Dwight Wieman, GOOD SAMARITAN. Last April, Mr. Wieman, a McKinleyville resident, jumped into the high, raging waters of the Van Duzen River at Swimmers Delight off Hwy. 36 to help two teenage girls who were being swept downstream. He helped the girls reach the far side of the river, and they were all subsequently rescued and brought back across the river.

Deputy Bryan Waxler, SAVED A LIFE IN THE LINE OF DUTY. Late on the night of July 23, 2012, Dep. Waxler of Eureka responded to a call in Redway, where a 19-year-old woman had been reported running naked through the woods. When the woman saw Dep. Waxler, she jumped over a three-foot high railing on the Redway Bridge and began walking along the very narrow outside ledge of the bridge. As her right foot slipped off the ledge, Dep. Waxler grabbed her wrist and was able to pull her back onto the bridge. The Redway Bridge stands 150’ above a rocky river bar, and a fall from the bridge would be almost certain death.

OS2 Zane Steves, EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE IN THE LINE OF DUTY LEADING TO SAVING A LIFE. On January 27, 2012, Coastguardsman Steves received an extremely faint, garbled transmission that sounded like a distress call. Steves persisted in his quest to decipher the message, enlisting the help of others on the watch, and soon they developed a search plan based on the approximate source of the transmission. A Coast Guard helicopter crew subsequently located a life raft with three men from the fishing vessel West Wind, including one who was hypothermic, and transported them to shore.

Coast Guard Helicopter Crew: Lt. Keith Roberts, Lt. George Suchanek, AMT2 William Lara, AST3 Nikkolas Kemp. SAVED A LIFE IN THE LINE OF DUTY. On November 23, 2011, the Coast Guard helicopter crew of Roberts, Suchanek, Lara, and Kemp launched in deteriorating weather – reduced visibility, winds gusting to 20 knots, rain, and 20-foot seas – to respond to a container ship where a crewmember was injured. They were able to carry out a successful rescue under extremely perilous conditions and delivered the victim to the Arcata Airport with less than five minutes of fuel to spare.

Debbie Pierce. SAVED A LIFE. On May 7, 2012, most of the kindergartners at Lafayette School in Eureka had finished their lunch and left the cafeteria when staff member Debbie Pierce of Eureka was informed by another staff member that it appeared that a young boy was choking. Debbie immediately performed an abdominal thrust (the Heimlich maneuver,) dislodging food from the boy’s airway. The boy recovered completely.

Ben Fleek, SPIRIT OF THE RED CROSS. Ben and his late wife Candy were directly responsible for the creation and staffing of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department, which now responds to 70+ calls per year. Ben is being honored for his selfless contribution of time, money, and service to the Bridgeville community and Volunteer Fire Department.

Captain James Flynn and Firefighter Yolla Montalbin, SAVED A LIFE IN THE LINE OF DUTY. On a cold January night in 2012, a man jumped from the Samoa Bridge into the frigid waters of Humboldt Bay. Flynn, a resident of McKinleyville, and Montalbin, of Eureka, duty swimmers with Humboldt Bay Fire, entered the water without hesitation, despite the darkness and poor visibility. Flynn and Montalbin swam across to Woodley Island and conducted a land search in the darkness, eventually locating the victim, who was unresponsive and hypothermic. They carried the victim over difficult terrain to the bridge, where an ambulance was waiting.

Barney Barnhart, GOOD SAMARITAN. In April, 2012, on Highway 101 near Fields Landing, Barnhart, of Fortuna, responded to a woman desperately trying to flag down help. Her mother had collapsed in the car; she was unconscious and having difficulty breathing. Barnhart lifted the woman’s head to ease her breathing and waited with her family until the ambulance arrived. He later stopped at the hospital to check on the victim’s condition.

Nathan Frey, SAVED A LIFE – YOUTH 18 AND UNDER. During a Boy Scout troop campout, a 10-year-old Scout who was highly allergic to bee stings disturbed an underground yellow jacket nest. The yellow jackets swarmed and immediately started to sting him. Nathan, a Eureka resident who was 15 at the time, ran to his aid. He swatted the yellow jackets off the boy, then picked him up and carried him to the camping area. Both boys received numerous bee stings. Using his first aid training, Nathan monitored the boy over the next hour.

Benji Conrad, Ian Louth, Blake Barr, Jason Gabriel. SAVED A LIFE. Scott Stephens was surfing in Humboldt Bay last October when he was bitten and pulled underwater by a shark. Stephens punched the shark on the side of its head until it released him, and then caught a wave back to shore. Four surfers helped save his life. Conrad (from Bayside) paddled to him and stayed with Stephens till he reached the shore. Louth (who lives in Whitethorn) stabilized Stephens and administered direct pressure on his large wounds to minimize blood loss. Barr assisted Louth in applying pressure, and Gabriel (also from Bayside) drove Stephens, Louth, and Barr to a waiting ambulance.

Justin Johnson and Isaac Johnson, SAVED A LIFE. On March 27, 2012, Justin Johnson and his friend Isaac Johnson came across a flaming wreck on Hwy. 36. Two young children, a 3-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl, were trapped inside the wreckage. In order to pull the boy through a shattered window, Justin had to reach through the flames to release the boy’s foot. Justin took the children back to Isaac’s truck, and both men tried to calm the children and keep them warm while they waited for transport to Redwood Memorial Hospital.