Their bravery did not go unheralded but now three young men from Williams Lake will be recognized for their selfless act by earning one of the the highest honours in the nation.
Kingsley Cheung, Justin Ilnicki, and Kevin Leski (who has since moved from the community) will be awarded medals for bravery by the Right Honourable David Johnston, governor general of Canada.
The trio are being recognized for actions they took to save two individuals from a burning vehicle following a two-vehicle accident on Highway 20 in 2007.
On Oct. 13 of that year, the three friends rescued Betty-Lou Kopetski and Hugh Olson of Quesnel. The couple were driving in their pick up towing a camper when they were struck head on by a car.
The five occupants in the car died; however, Cheung, Ilnicki and Leski heard screams from the truck and stopped to help. Both Kopetski and Olson were injured and unable to get out on their own. The three men broke the truck’s windshield and were able to pull the driver out dragging him a safe distance away. They then returned and pulled Kopetski to safety.
Cheug went to a nearby ranch to call for an ambulance while Ilnicki and Leski took care of the couple.
Reflecting on the incident four years after the fact Cheung says there was no time to be scared when confronted with the situation.
“The three of us didn’t pause. There was no doubt that we had to try for something,” he said. “We didn’t think about the danger.”
Cheung thinks “hero” doesn’t describe the three young men’s actions.
“I would like to think I just did what everybody would do.”
As for the couple they saved, Cheung says they keep in regular contact and visit at Christmastime.
He’s not sure how the Governor General’s office got wind of the efforts of the three, just that he got a letter in the mail alerting him to the medal ceremony.
“I wasn’t really expecting it,” he said of the notification. “For the first little while the thing that I needed to know was that they (Kopetski and Olson) were OK …. That was probably the best news. I don’t feel the need to be recognized for it but it’s definitely a cool thing to meet the governor general and be recognized.”
Cheung doesn’t know when the ceremony will take place.
The decorations of bravery were created in 1972 to recognize people who risked their lives to save or to protect the lives of others. The medal of bravery recognizes acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances.