Joseph M. Stepanek helped to save Tyler J., Megan N., and Lisa K. Ellison from burning, Marion, Iowa, October 27, 2001. Tyler, 12, and his sister Megan, 11, were passengers in the back seat of a sport utility vehicle driven by their mother, 32. After a highway accident, which was fatal for the occupants of the other vehicle involved, the sport utility vehicle came to rest upside down in a grassy ditch along the highway and caught fire in its engine area. Stepanek, 20, carpenter, and a friend were approaching on the same highway and witnessed the accident. They stopped at the scene and ran to the passenger side of the burning vehicle, which Stepanek entered through the broken-out window of the rear door. He released Tyler’s safety belt, then removed him from the vehicle and took him to safety. Stepanek then re-entered the vehicle, joining his friend, who had entered through another broken-out side window. After they attempted to remove Megan’s safety belt, the friend withdrew and obtained a small pocketknife from a bystander. He re-entered the burning vehicle with the knife, which Stepanek used to cut Megan’s safety belt. The friend then removed her from the vehicle. With flames starting through the firewall at the front of the vehicle, Ms. Ellison freed herself and made her way into the back-seat area. Stepanek backed out of the vehicle and assisted her through the window to safety. Flames shortly engulfed the vehicle, which was destroyed in the accident. Tyler, Megan, and Ms. Ellison all required hospital treatment for broken bones and other injuries, but they were not burned.
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