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Elderly Man Hailed as Hero After Saving Driver from Sinking Car

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Steve Montelongo of Modesto, California, has quite the heroic resume. He has saved not one life, not two lives, but three lives.

In 2002, Montelongo noticed his neighbor’s home was on fire, started by a gas leak, according to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s website. Kathirne Mattox, 80, and Wayne Maxwell, 79, were both trapped in different parts of the house.

“Heard the explosion, ran over to see what was going on,” he said, according to KCRA-TV. “I thought it was my house. It was the neighbor’s house. Ran over there. My son was trying to get in the door. He couldn’t, so I said, ‘Move, let me try.'”

Montelongo, 62 at that time, didn’t hesitate to break down doors and rescue them — first Mattox and then Maxwell. He even gave Maxwell the shoes off his own feet before kicking down another door and helping Maxwell escape.

As a result of his daring and courageous rescue, Montelongo was awarded a Carnegie Hero Fund Commission medal in 2003.

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You might have thought Montelongo’s heroic days were over, but no one told him that.

On Oct. 8, Montelongo — at the spry age of 80 — saved his third life. He was driving his granddaughter, Monic Cordova, back from a dental appointment when she noticed a car had driven into a canal near the road.

“Then she says, ‘Oh my god. A car just went into the canal, grandpa,'” Montelongo recalled, according to KCRA.

According to the Modesto Bee, Cordova asked, “Where are you going?” when Montelongo quickly pulled into a parking lot and jumped out of the car. He headed straight to the scene of the accident, of course.

Montelongo reported that the accident had drawn a crowd, but it was a crowd of rubber-neckers and no one seemed to be doing anything about 62-year-old Jack Swarts, who was trapped in the sinking car.

“I see about 20 people gathered there,” he said. “The guy’s still in the car.”

“First thing that came to my mind: I hope one of the doors is open, right? And the back door was open. When I opened the door, it gushed in and it pulled me, it actually pulled me towards the car and I fell back against the car and then I tried to get my balance, still with my sight on the man, you know, making sure he wouldn’t go under,” he said.

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“I literally yanked him out, just praying that T-shirt wouldn’t rip off right there, you know?”

At that point, a woman jumped in to help both men out of the canal. The driver was conscious when Montelongo hauled him out of the car and had been “panicking” when he was rescued. Later reports suggested Swarts had experienced a medical incident and blacked out, crashing into the canal as a result.

Montelongo said he figured he was just in the right place at the right time and denied that he’s a hero.

“I guess that’s where I was supposed to be,” he said. “I didn’t get too excited, you know what I’m saying?”

“No no, I don’t consider myself a hero,” he told KOVR-TV. “I was just a fella that got put in the right place at the right time.”

Everyone else seems thoroughly impressed with the 80-year-old’s actions.

“First responder, he can probably add to his resume,” Tom Olsen of the California Highway Patrol said. “A lot of people are in the right place at the right time, but very few actually did what Mr. Montelongo did … it appears by all accounts that on paper he’s 80 years old, but his attitude is much younger than that.”

“My hero is first God, then this man here,” Montelongo’s grandson, Jose Sabala, said. “He has done it again.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking