The White House has announced that Sgt. William Buchanan, a deputy with the Avery County Sheriff’s Office, is being honored with the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor for rescuing someone in severe car crash while off duty.
The Medal of Valor is the Nation’s highest award for valor by public safety officers, and serves to recognize extraordinary acts above and beyond the call of duty.
On Feb. 13, 2016, Buchanan was traveling with his family on the way home from dinner in Johnson City, Tenn. About 11:30 p.m. on a very rural two-lane road, Sgt. Buchanan came upon an accident, which had just occurred. It was a head-on collision between two vehicles. Upon impact both cars became engulfed in flames, according to Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye.
Another passerby, Sean Ochenbein, who was also awarded this medal, was also almost immediately on the scene. Together Sgt. Buchanan and Ochenbein, an EMT from Putnam County Rescue Squad, assessed the scene. It was determined nothing could be done for one of the drivers and he succumbed at the scene from injuries.
The other driver was trapped in his burning car. Flames were across the dash and along the headliner of the vehicle and because his legs were trapped it was impossible to pull the driver, 33-year-old Jerry Oaks from through any window. No matter how hard they tried they could not open the door with their hands and every second the flames grew in intensity. They then got a tow strap and attached it to the door with a vehicle and pulled the door open. They were able to extricate Oaks from his fully engulfed vehicle.
If not for the actions of Sgt. Buchanan and Sean Ochsenbein staying with the incident, working through an inferno of flames, there is no doubt Oaks would have perished at the scene like the other driver. Sgt. Buchanan and Sean Ochsenbein risked their lives to save the life of the victim they could reach, overcoming flames and smoke and continuing efforts though circumstances, which would have caused others to cease those efforts.
Buchanan and Ochenbein will be publicly honored with 10 other recipients of this award from 2015-16 at later date to be determined, according to a release from the White House: “All of these individuals exhibited great courage and unwavering dedication to serving our country. Further details will be announced soon.”