Carnegie Medal for Heroism presentation to Joseph D. Donnell

Carnegie Hero Joseph D. Donnell, center, recalls the rescue of a 9-year-old boy from a submerged vehicle in a remote reservoir in Oakley, Utah, at his hometown’s Jan. 7 council meeting, where Kamas City Mayor Matt McCormick presented Donnell with the Carnegie Medal with Donnell’s wife and daughter.

“It’s really incredible that we have people like you in our community,” McCormick told Donnell as he presented the medal.

According to a KPCW article, Donnell got emotional as he remembered the rescue. The pickup truck had sank in water, 9 feet deep, and while two other children were rescued from the truck, 9-year-old Paxton K. Knight remained inside. Donnell, 55, was kayaking nearby when he saw the truck enter the 60-degree water. Donnell removed his life vest and exited his kayak, swimming to the truck. He submerged to fully enter the truck and felt around the backseat area and floorboards for Paxton in the murky water. Not finding him, Donnell returned to the surface for air and then dived again, entering the truck through a rear door and searching for Paxton with his hands. Witnesses said Donnell dove at least six times. On the final dive, Donnell felt Paxton’s clothing, pulled him to his chest, exited the truck, and returned to the surface. He swam him to the bank, where he and others performed CPR on the non-responsive boy. After 15 minutes of CPR, Paxton had a faint pulse. He was taken to the hospital by helicopter where he remained for eight days. He fully recovered. Donnell was tired and cold but not injured.

“We really didn’t expect him to survive,” Donnell told those in attendance of the council meeting. “He walked out of the hospital 100% healed. He’s a fighter.”

Donnell said that receiving the Carnegie Medal was “the highlight of my life.”