Medals fete 13 who risked or lost lives for others

Updated at: 06/25/2013 8:05 AM
By JOE MANDAK

(AP) PITTSBURGH - A West Virginia man who drowned while trying to save four youths caught in an ocean current off the North Carolina coast was one of 13 people honored with medals Tuesday by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for risking their lives for others.

Kevin Roberts, 43, of Mount Lookout, W.Va., died on June 4, 2012, while trying to save the youths from drowning off Bald Head Island, N.C.

Roberts had swum about 250 yards, the length of 2 1/2 football fields, into the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to save the youths, who ranged in age from 12 to 17. While Roberts drowned, another man, Ian Tordella-Williams, 27, of Carrboro, N.C., survived his attempt to help the youths until they were pulled into a rescue boat. Tordella-Williams also was awarded a medal for his actions.

Honored posthumously along with Roberts was Michael Wayne Pirie, of Oviedo, Fla. Pirie was 18 when he died of hypothermia and other complications while trying to save another University of Florida student who became entangled in ropes while their group was exploring a cave in Lafayette, Ga., in February 2011.

The student he was trying to save, 20-year-old Grant Lockenbach, could not be rescued and died after he tried to retrieve a dropped backpack beneath a waterfall that drained into a 125-foot pit about 1,000 feet inside Ellison’s Cave.

The honorees, or their surviving relatives, also receive an unspecified financial grant.

The fund was established in 1904 by Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who was inspired by rescue stories from a mine disaster that killed 181 people.

Based in Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s mission is to recognize people who perform heroic acts in civilian life and to provide financial help to those disabled, or to the dependents of those killed, by their heroism. Winners are announced five times a year.

So far this year, 35 people have been honored. Since its inception, 9,611 have been honored with medals and more than $35.2 million in cash awards.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)