They have been honored by the Tampa Police and Firefighters, by the City Council and by Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
But, when Lisa Missana and Shane Mitchell were presented with medals from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, the West Meadows residents who last year pulled a drowning woman from her submerged vehicle couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the distinguished bronze medals in the cherry wood cases.
At Stonewood Grill & Tavern in Tampa Palms on June 29, Cash Kaschai of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission officially presented Mitchell and Missana with their Carnegie Medals, which were announced back in March.
“He just said this was the highest award a civilian gets in the United States,” Missana said, “and that’s crazy. That is crazy.”
“This is kind of incredible,’’ Mitchell said.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was established in 1904, after the Harwick, PA, coal mine disaster that claimed 181 lives. Two of the victims entered the mine after the explosion in a rescue attempt.
Three months after the disaster, Carnegie set aside $5 million for the Commission to recognize civilian heroes while also providing financial assistance to those disabled and the dependents of those killed helping others.
In 113 years, only 9,953 Carnegie Hero Medals have been awarded (from more than 89,000 nominees).
Kaschai said that those awarded Carnegie Medals don’t think about dying when they put themselves in danger trying to save others and, in fact, about 20 percent of the medals are awarded posthumously.
The medals, he said, are befitting the heroism and swift selfless action Missana and Mitchell showed in saving 26-year-old Marla Zick’s life last year.
How It Happened…
On March 31, 2016, Zick suffered a seizure while driving her gray Mustang over the Gateway Bridge, linking West Meadows to Tampa Palms, on the way to Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd.
The car, heading east, rolled down the bridge, smacking into the white brick retaining wall and leaving black marks as it scraped against it all the way down.
“Every time I drive by there, I can’t help but look over at the marks on the wall,’’ Mitchell said.
Maurice Rolle was driving behind Zick, and watched in terror as the car rolled past the end of the retaining wall, missed a cement light post and a tree before rolling between two bushes and into the retention pond at the corner of Meadow Pine Dr. and New Tampa Blvd.
Sam Harris was driving toward the bridge when he saw Zick’s car careening out of control. He pulled over, and then got out of his car and ran toward the pond. He called 911.
Mitchell was taking his 7-year-old son to school and was driving down Meadow Pine Dr. when he saw the car slip between the two bushes and into the pond.
The car had yet to sink and Mitchell had a wincher on the front of his truck, so he pulled it up close. He said he thought at the time it would be as simple as hooking up the car in the water and pulling it out. Rolle grabbed the hook at the end of the wincher chain and headed into the water, only to discover, however, that the water was too deep to reach the car.
Missana was a few minutes behind Mitchell on Meadow Pine Dr. and also on the way to drop her son off at school. She saw the car in the pond, and grabbed her phone to start taking pictures. She saw Mitchell and Rolle yelling at an unconscious Zick to get out of the car.
Then, the Mustang started to sink, nose first. Missana remembers three bubbles coming up. Rolle described the scene as total chaos. Mitchell started into the water, and Missana slipped off her shoes and, after briefly flashing back to the times she had seen alligators in the pond, followed him in.
Thankfully, Zick had been driving with her window down. Mitchell and Missana took multiple turns, unsuccessfully, trying to get Zick’s seat belt unclasped. Because the water was green and murky, neither could actually see the car.
Missana screamed for someone to get her scissors. Before she could go back under to cut Zick free, however, Mitchell came up and said he had freed her.
Mitchell and Missana then went back under and, after a few attempts, were able to pull Zick through the open window and to the surface. The Tampa Police Department had arrived and helped them pull Zick to shore, where paramedics tended to her before taking her to Florida Hospital Tampa.
The rescue took all of two minutes, although it felt like two hours to Mitchell and Missana.
“It felt like an eternity,’’ Mitchell said at the time. “I remember when I stopped to catch my breath, I was just thinking, ‘Oh my God, if I don’t get her out she is going to die. I can’t stop.’ It felt like such a long time, and I dove so many times.”
Mitchell and Missana said that they don’t feel like heroes. They didn’t think about saving Zick, they just did.
“She was going to die if we didn’t do something,’’ Missana said.
That is the essence of being a hero, Kaschai said.
A former Carnegie Medal honoree himself in 1972, Kaschai was 19 years old when he remembers steering his car into a guardrail to avoid a 110-gallon gas tank flying at him. The tank had come free from a semi-truck transporting tomatoes, which had smashed into an AMC Gremlin on the other side of the road.
“I still remember glass raining down all over,’’ he said. “And flames 25-30 feet high.”
Inside the car were two paraplegics, Kaschai said. They were on fire, and along with two other men, he helped pull them out and roll them in the dirt to put the flames out.
“It was kind of cold that day, and I had a t-shirt on under a button-up shirt, and a pullover sweatshirt,’’ he said. “I remember it burned through three different places all the way through to my chest.”
Kaschai said a moment like that stays with you forever. “And it will for Lisa and Shane, too,’’ he said.
It was fitting that Missana and Mitchell received their award at Stonewood Grill & Tavern, since that’s where they came together with Rolle, Harris and Zick for the first time, a week after the pond rescue.
Although they have received dozens of accolades for their actions, including a photo shoot with National Geographic for an as-yet unpublished piece, and a recent appearance on WFLA-TV’s “Daytime,” Missana and Mitchell still feel all the awards and recognition are much ado about nothing.
What they take the greatest joy in, however, is the continuing relationship and friendship they have with those involved.
Mitchell and Missana still talk to Zick, who is now living in New York. When she is in town, they get together for dinner.
“I think the coolest thing was to see Marla graduate from school and move on and be able to live her life,’’ Mitchell said. “That was the best thing. We’ll always be connected. Sometimes, you need that in your life.”