The Nebraska State Patrol and the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Office yesterday honored three citizen heroes who saved the life of a deputy sheriff last week.
Robert Regester, Kealan Hawley, and Keagan Shifflett were each presented with plaques and citations at a ceremony in Scottsbluff attended by family, friends, and law enforcement officers.
39-year old Deputy Josh Ruzicka of Gering was on Hwy 71, south of its junction with Hwy 26, about 7:20 last Monday morning when he suffered a medical condition. His cruiser left the roadway, hit an embankment, and caught fire.
Regester – a former law enforcement officer – was driving Hawley and Shifflett – both students at Gering High School – when they saw the accident and immediately went to the scene. They found Deputy Ruzicka unconscious inside the burning vehicle and were able to break a window and pull him to safety.
During the ceremony honoring them, Sheriff Mark Overman told the trio that his office and the community are “eternally grateful” for the way they acted with no regard to their own safety to save a life.
Overman said the “selflessness and bravery” they showed in forcing their way into the burning vehicle, freeing Ruzicka, and moving him away allowed everyone to meet in celebration instead of meeting elsewhere to mourn a lost life.
Nebraska State Patrol Supt Colonel John Bolduc told the audience the agency’s lifesaver award normally goes to troopers, but that “it’s really special when we get a chance to honor our citizens who decided to step up and take action (showing) courage and boldness during an emergency situation.”
Deputy Ruzicka has recovered and was on hand to help present the awards to all 3 men, saying “If they wouldn’t have stopped, I wouldn’t be here today,” then addinb “It’s good to know we still have good people out there who are willing to help.”
Sheriff Overman said that Regester had told him it was “just a stroke of luck” they were driving by at the time and that he looked to the side and saw the cruiser leave the highway. By the time they turned around and went back, the vehicle was already on fire.
All 3 men received awards from the State Patrol and the Scotts Bluff Sheriff’s Office. Hawley and Shifflett have also been recognized by the Gering school district.