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Twenty In Nine States, Canada Recognized As Heroes

December 21, 1988

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Two Texas men who jumped 40 feet from a highway bridge into a Louisiana swamp to rescue a floundering truck driver were among 20 people from nine states and Canada honored today by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.

Five of those named by the commission died while trying to save others. The commission distributed $50,000 in awards to the 20 latest heroes or their survivors.

William F. Kessler, 24, of Houston and F. James Lalumandier, 23, of Bryan, Texas, were traveling separately Aug. 11 on Interstate 10 near Grosse Tete, La., when they saw the wrecked truck of Robert H. Fordham, 40.

Fordham was thrown clear and landed in the murky water of the swamp, but his injuries prevented him from swimming. He called for help and went under repeatedly.

Kessler and Lalumandier jumped together, feet first, and swam with Fordham about 40 feet to land. Fordham was hospitalized five days for back and hip injuries.

They are among 7,294 people honored in the 84 years since industrialist Andrew Carnegie established the fund. The commission has distributed more than $17.6 million in one-time payments and pensions in recognition of acts of heroism.

The other acts honored today were:

- Stephen Douglas Gragg, 8, and Chad Eugene Gragg, 12, of Buckner, Mo., fell through ice and drowned Feb. 4 along with their brother, Aaron, 11, who fell through ice on a small pond and called to them for help.

- Robert L. Merrifield, 22, of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Miguel Rodriguez Jr., 38, of Bay City, Texas, entered a tank and like the co-worker they were trying to save were overcome and died in the oxygen-deficien t air. The accident occurred Aug. 26, 1987, on a drilling rig platform at Sabine Pass, Texas.

- Everett H. Williamson, 32, of Cleveland died in a house fire along with Jeremy Williamson, 9, his nephew, after rousing Jeremy, his two brothers and their father. The others escaped.

- Ranger Mark Padgett, 30, of Hartwell, Ga., dove into the Darien River near Darien, Ga., April 17, to help save Roy M. Smith, 37, from drowning.

- Four people: Lionel E. Hicks, 32, of Picton, Ontario; Lawrence A. White, 27, of Toronto; R. Paul Vidito, 31, of Picton; and Paul Nelson Bartlett, 28, of Consecon, Ontario, entered the basement of a building in Picton Jan. 11, 1986, to rescue patrons of a restaurant who were trapped by debris following a gas explosion. All survived.

- Craig Irwin Cronin, 38, of Hyattsville, Md., stepped between a co-worker at a College Park, Md., motel office and a man who splashed gasoline on both workers, setting them aflame on Sept. 29, 1987. Cronin extinguished the flames on Carla Scott. Both were hospitalized for serious burns.

- Thomas M. Millard, 35, of Lincoln, Neb., saved police officers David M. Beggs and Lee R. Volkner from possibly being shot by a suspect who drew Begg’s gun from its holster as the offers were arresting him. Millard joined the struggle and grabbed the suspect’s wrist.

- Joseph F. Clemente, 45, of McKeesport, Pa., and Edward Opatrny, 41, of Port Vue, Pa., freed Gregory D. Kuhns, 18, from his burning, overturned car after an accident July 8, in Harrison City, Pa.

- Merle Edward Watkins, 65, of Pittsburgh entered the burning home of a neighbor, Fred D. Wood, 80, pushed open a barricaded interior door and dragged Wood, who greatly outweighed him, to safety.

- John Phillip Goucher, 34, of Oakdale, Calif., and Ken L. Jenkins, 30, of La Habra, Calif., entered a burning automobile, freed Gary S. Franklin, 36, and pulled him out March 23, at Dublin, Calif.

- Roger Dale Jackson, 16, of Joanna, S.C., stopped his vehicle on a highway in Joanna Feb. 12 and freed Frank G. Trotter, 21, who was unconscious, from Trotter’s pickup truck after it crashed on a railroad track. A freight train smashed the pickup seconds after Jackson pulled Trotter free.

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