Friday, January 10, 2014

TOP STORY >> Saluting unsung heroes of 2013

Compiled by RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Yes, police, firefighters and military members constantly put their lives on the line, but so do everyday citizens.

In 2013, The Leader documented numerous events where regular John Q. Public stepped up without regard to life or stepped out to do something wonderful for others.

Who are these people?

A grandmother, teenagers, junior high students, construction workers and dog lovers.


In early October, Shelia Hart, a 51-year-old grandmother and veteran PCSSD school bus driver, remained calm and protected the children aboard her bus during a hijacking. She had been taking students to Pinewood Elementary.

Eleven children were on the bus. No one was injured.

Hart, explaining the situation, said, “He jumped on the bus and said drive and I said ‘what?’ He flipped the knife out and said ‘drive, shut the door and drive,’ and that’s what I did. I said ‘OK, where do you want to go and what’s wrong?’” Hart said she drove for about three blocks before Miller asked that they switch seats while the bus was moving.

Hart told him, “No, we can’t do that.” So they pulled over and she showed him how to work the controls. Hart said that, during the hijacking, “I kept telling him to be careful. I asked him couldn’t me and the babies get off; let’s just take them to school. I told him you could have this bus, just let us off.”

Hart explained that Miller said yes, but then missed a turn and started becoming more irritable. He also told them that he would drive the bus until it ran out of gas, Hart said.

She had recently completed training on how to handle a hijacking, but said, “No kind of training could prepare you for that. It helped.” Hart also said, “I guess my mother instinct kicked in.”

Reflecting on her actions during the hijacking, which included talking to Miller and keeping the kids calm, Hart added, “I think the right thing to do was talk to the person, keep a cool head.” She didn’t think she would have done anything differently.

At speeds around 40 mph, police followed the bus from the 3700 block of North First Street near the air base to Hwy. 367, John Harden Drive and Hwy. 5 in Cabot — where the 20-minute, 9-mile chase ended.

Superintendent Jerry Guess called Hart “a heroic person” during a ceremony at the school bus depot on Redmond Road. “Perhaps the events that occurred saved lives, the lives of those students,” he said.

The alleged hijacker, 22-year-old Nicholas John Miller, pleaded not guilty to felony vehicle piracy, 12 felony counts of kidnapping, two felony counts of aggravated assault, felony fleeing, misdemeanor driving while intoxicated-drugs and misdemeanor reckless driving.


Seventeen-year-old Tristan Wall was honored as a hero during a Cabot council meeting for using his body to protect a toddler during a car crash in April that took his friend’s life.

The “Cabot Hero Award” was only the second given by Mayor Bill Cypert.

Claudie Phillips e-mailed Cypert requesting the award, saying Wall’s action saved the life of his 2-year-old grandson, Lathan Webert.

He said, as a father, he believes he would have thrown himself over a child. But Wall, who sat next to the toddler in the back seat of the SUV, is a young man without those paternal instincts.

“Instead of covering his head and protecting himself, he protected the baby,” Phillips said. “My grandson was sitting on the same side that hit the tree, and he didn’t have a scratch on him. The only way you could tell he was in a wreck was one piece of glass in his diaper.

“Tristan did get whiplash, but I think God was protecting him because he was protecting Lathan,” Phillips said.

Jaden Herlacher, 15, died in the crash. Phillips’ daughter and Lathan’s mother, Chasity Webert, was seriously injured.

Phillips said she was unaccustomed to driving an SUV and something made her jerk the steering wheel. She lost control on the wet pavement on LeMay Road in Austin and hit a tree.

“God bless you and thank you for what you did,” Cypert told Wall during the presentation.


A Jacksonville boy is alive today because his teen neighbor saved him from drowning in Beaverfork Lake in Conway.

Stephanie Swartz had taken her sons, Dalton Pewterbaugh, 7, and Bubba Rice, 12; her niece, Sarah McDermott, 5; and neighbor Tucker Felix for their weekly swim at a lake.

Felix and his family moved to Braden Street two years ago and the families had grown close.

The group was floating on inflatable lounge chairs in the middle of the murky lake when things suddenly turned for the worse.

“I was on the raft. I didn’t listen to my parents and got off of it,” Dalton said.

He panicked. Instead of reaching for the chair, he was actually pushing it away.

Swartz said, “It happened so fast. Dalton was coughing up water and making a God-awful noise. It scared me.”

She was on another raft and couldn’t swim fast enough to get to her son in time. So Swartz started to scream.

“Tucker saw me in distress and immediately dove in,” she said.

Felix, a certified lifeguard at the Stonewall subdivision swimming pool, said, “My adrenaline hit me and I immediately got off the raft and swam toward Dalton. The only thing out of the water was his nose.”

Felix said everything around him disappeared when he focused on Dalton.

Dalton was about 30 yards from Felix. He was submerged.

Felix reached him and pulled him out of the water. Felix told Dalton to grab his right side and then Felix helped him swim to shore.

“We were a good distance from the shore. I kept yelling to him to swim,” Felix said.

He kept holding Dalton until the water was shallow enough for the youngster to stand in.

Swartz said, “I cried when I got out (of the lake). There was nothing I could do. If Tucker wasn’t there, I would be burying my baby. He is my hero. Thank God he was there or things would have been a lot different. I have no doubt in my mind that my son wouldn’t be here.”


Two students from Middle School South spent an afternoon at the Cabot Kmart selling baked goods to send a Middle School North student they didn’t know to space camp.

Khristian Binnall and Brittney Quinn, both 10 years old, had already raised enough to ensure the boy a slot at the camp. They were working toward raising $200 to cover the full cost of the trip.

The children don’t know the boy they were trying to help, but they knew his mother was ill. And they knew they didn’t want him to miss such an opportunity, said Khristian’s mother, Rhonda Binnall.

“His parents can’t afford for him to go and going is a big deal,” Binnall said. “I would like to think that if my son was in that position that we’d be able to get some help.”


Cabot Middle School North fifth grader Bridget Mullins turned 11 years old in 2013. For her birthday party, she asked her friends to bring presents — not for her —to a senior staying at the Spring Creek Health and Rehab during Christmas.

“My grandma died this summer. I kind of feel bad for the people who have no family to give them presents (for Christmas),” she said.

Bridget Mullins and her mom, Leslie, contacted Spring Creek and learned that Pam McAdams, 67, didn’t have a family to celebrate Christmas with. They met with McAdams earlier in the week. McAdams said she wanted a small tabletop Christmas tree.

Leslie Mullins asked her daughter if she wanted her friends to buy gifts for children staying at the hospital. Bridget said she would rather give gifts to someone older.

The girls gathered at Spring Creek and went to McAdams’ room bearing boxes and bags of gifts. They gave McAdams a jewelry box, several bottles of perfume, socks, slippers, hand cream, two sweaters and a top, a bracelet, necklace, a blanket, a panda bear, a robe, a case of Dr. Pepper and Reese’s peanut butter cups.

McAdams said, “I think it is wonderful. It was real unselfish of them. I didn’t expect so much.”


Cody Belew, a finalist on “The Voice,” came back to his hometown to support Beebe High School’s Project Graduation, an all-night party for seniors held after graduation. The project holds fundraisers throughout the year to purchase prizes and college necessities, such as laptops that are given away during the party.

“I participated in Project Graduation, my parents were heavily involved and my brother, Casey, did it. A great way to celebrate in a safe way,” said Belew, a 2003 Beebe High graduate.

“I haven’t been back to the school since freshman year in college,” he added.

The concert brought in a substantial amount of financial support as the auditorium was nearly full.

“It was a good crowd. I was worried we wouldn’t have a great crowd,” Belew said after the concert.

He performed in front of his home crowd, which supported his career and called in their votes during his run on “The Voice.”

“It meant the world and there’s no greater feeling than that (playing for Beebe residents),” Belew said.

“I didn’t bring home the trophy (on “The Voice”) but it felt that way,” he added.

Throughout the concert were cheers, screams and “I love you Cody, — We all love you,” from a group of tweens near the stage.

Beebe High 2013 honor graduates introduced Belew. He started the show by singing Beebe High’s alma mater. And, when the curtain opened, the singer was wearing his Beebe letterman’s choir jacket.


Members of Cabot’s new Little Helpers chapter completed their first project in September.

And their success was sweet, literally, for the police officers, firefighters and EMTs who received the cookies nine children and three adults delivered on Sept. 11 as a thank you to everyday heroes.

The chapter’s co-founder, Shann Nobles, said the mission of Little Helpers is to teach children of all ages the importance of volunteering in their communities.

“This is a good way for kids to learn how to be more giving,” she explained.

Nobles noted that the program is designed to help young people understand the value of volunteering, recognize the blessings in their lives, broaden their community perspective and feel the sense of accomplishment received from lending a helping hand.


Dog lovers from across central Arkansas joined together and collected $10,000 to save an abandoned daschund, Mr. Wiggles AKA Scooter.

Animal control officer Angela Spears was working late on Saturday, July 27 when she saw — out of the corner of her eye — something moving in the bushes outside.

“I didn’t know what he was,” she said. Mr. Wiggles dragged himself to Spears and she gently picked him up.

That is when the 4-year-old pup started licking her face. Spears said, “He sold me right there.”

Mr. Wiggles was suffering from a ruptured disc pressing against his spinal cord.

He was able to get corrective surgery in August at Hillcrest Animal Hospital, where the veterinarian found that he had a spinal cord inflated with spinal cord fluid instead of a dented spinal cord.

A dented spinal cord usually can’t be repaired, meaning Mr. Wiggles probably wouldn’t have been able to walk again, explained Julann Carney of Sherwood Animal Shelter Helpers — a volunteer organization that took it upon themselves to raise $5,000 for the surgery and more for his pre-operative screenings and post-surgery care.

The fact that he was standing up on his own and wagging his tail before the surgery was encouraging, she added.

“We had no idea the public was going to respond so compassionately and generously...We’re absolutely moved. It’s heartwarming,” Carney said.

One woman even let Mr. Wiggles borrow her dog’s wheelchair for a few days while he waited to receive a $150 dogcart from The cart was donated.


Sherwood construction workers were honored at a December city council meeting for helping save a life during an apartment fire.

When a Woodbine Apartments unit fire started, three nearby construction workers called the fire department, knocked on every door and made sure everyone was out. They got everyone out except for one woman in one of the upstairs apartments. When the firefighters arrived on scene, the entire upstairs’ landing was full of fire.

Fire Chief David Teague said the construction crew of Ben Hughes, Chris Smith and Richard Eberle “told us where we needed to go as soon as we got there.” The workers sent the firefighters to the one apartment that they feared someone was still in. Firefighters rescued a woman covered in soot and barely breathing from that unit.

Mayor Virginia Hillman told the workers, “We appreciate you guys risking your lives for those residents. Thank you so much.”


And a thanks to all the area residents and groups that collected food, cots, blankets and cash to help those in need from Thanksgiving to Christmas and all year long. People like Tracy O’Bryan of Austin leading a coat drive, the Cabot Christmas Alliance for filling enough food boxes to feed 4,000-plus people, Cabot Christmas for Kids, the Junior Auxiliary of Cabot, the Lonoke County Christmas Coalition, the Beebe Angel Tree program, Jacksonville’s Fishnet Missions, Jacksonville’s Shop with a Cop, The Jacksonville Museum of History, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, VFW Post 4548 and others.