Citizen heroes

From left, Brett Bailes, Chris Holbeck and Dennis Wilson all live near 52nd and Parker Streets, the site of a February 2016 crash that caused one car to burst into flames.

Dennis Wilson was tinkering on his upstairs computer when his wife yelled that there had just been a crash in the intersection in front of their home.

The 67-year-old retired master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force bolted down the stairs to find flames and smoke billowing from a vehicle at 52nd and Parker Streets.

“I ran out of the front door right away,” he said.

Wilson, along with his neighbors Brett Bailes and Chris Holbeck, are credited with rushing to the aid of the three occupants of the burning car hit by a suspected drunken driver on Feb. 26.

Today, the men will be honored as Nebraska’s 2016 “citizen heroes” at halftime of the Huskers versus Iowa Hawkeyes football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

The honor, sponsored by Hy-Vee Supermarkets during the annual Thanksgiving weekend Heroes Game, is selected from nominations submitted by the public. Staff and volunteers from the American Red Cross picked the winners.

The men will take to the field alongside two recipients from Iowa. Ken Blazek and Brock Staley of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, saved a woman who was trapped in a house after an explosion, putting their own lives at risk.

The Omaha men pulled Nate Wissink, who was unconscious and pinned, from the car. Kyle Philipps and Erin Sorensen escaped themselves, though Bailes pulled Sorensen to the ground, helping to extinguish flames that covered her body.

Holbeck, a 54-year-old National Park Service biologist, had just started a fire in his fireplace when he heard a “sickening” loud crash up the street. He said he needed no thanks or gratitude for his actions.

“We only did what needed to be done when it needed to be done,” he said.

According to Omaha police, a man accused of drunken driving was traveling more than twice the speed limit in the residential area before colliding with the car. Andrew D. Williams, 38, is charged with DUI causing serious bodily injury.

Williams’ vehicle, a Toyota Tundra, landed on its side. The other car, a Lincoln Continental, was engulfed in flames after its gas tank ruptured.

All three occupants of the Lincoln were injured. Sorensen, who was in the back seat, said while her recovery is a challenge every day, it’s easier to wake up knowing that there are good people in the world, such as her three heroes. They’re the reason she’s alive today, she said.

“I think about the heroism they showed me, and it makes you want to go out and be a better person,” said Sorensen, 29, an online editor for Hail Varsity who, along with several others, nominated the men.

The honor took Wilson, an Omaha resident who has lived in his neighborhood for more than 20 years, by surprise.

“To still be able to help out and lend a hand in an emergency, it felt good,” he said. “There’s a purpose for me to be here and serve my community. I do what I do to help anybody and everybody that I can because of my faith.”

emily.nohr@owh.com, 402-473-9581

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