Check out all the latest Carnegie Medal winners
To learn more about all 22 of the latest heroes honored by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, click here.
By Michelle McNiel
World staff writer
WENATCHEE — An East Wenatchee teen who jumped into the Columbia River to save a drowning girl last year has been awarded a Carnegie Medal for heroism.
The national award annually honors people who risk their lives to save or attempt to save others.
Nicholas “Jason” Hays is one of 22 people in the U.S. and Canada to receive medals in the latest round of awards by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, established in 1904 by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
He was honored for saving 13-year-old Quennia Calixto-Negrette from drowning after she and a friend, Liliana Leon, were swept away by the strong current in the river on May 28, 2012. The girls and other friends had been jumping off a dock in the Linden Tree area of Riverfront Park.
Hays, then 16, was at the park with a friend when he heard kids yelling for someone to call 911. In an interview on Friday, Hays said he remembers hesitating for just a few seconds before deciding to try and rescue the girls. He ran about a quarter mile down the waterfront trail, hurdled a fence and waded into the 52-degree water.
He could see Quennia in the water, so he swam about 75 feet out to her. He told her he was there to help her before grabbing her by the wrist and then wrapping his right arm around her. He then swam using just his left arm toward the shore.
“My adrenalin rush had me pretty confident in my mind that I could get us both back to shore safely,” he said. “I never felt in the moment like I was going to die. In reality, though, I was probably in danger of drowning the whole time.”
Hays said he intended, once he got Quennia to shore, to go back for Liliana. But police had arrived by the then, and the girl could not be seen in the water. Her body was found about three weeks later down river.
Last year, Hays was awarded a certificate of merit from the Veterans of Foreign Wars in East Wenatchee and a citizen commendation award from the Wenatchee Police Department.
He was nominated for the Carnegie Award by Wenatchee Police Chief Tom Robbins.
According to its website, the Carnegie Medal and a monetary award is given to people following “peaceful vocations” who are injured or killed in heroic efforts to save human life. The idea behind the award is that fireman and policeman, who are often called on to save lives, receive pensions, and their spouses and children receive benefits if they are injured or killed in the act of saving a life. But every-day people don’t often get the same help.
Of the 22 people who received the award this month, Hays is one of six people who rescued others from drowning. One of those honorees died in his attempt. Other medal winners included nine people who rescued or tried to rescue victims from burning vehicles or burning homes, and others saved people from assaults, attacking dogs and a rampaging bull.
Along with the medal, Hays said he was “shocked” to find out that he will also receive $5,000.
He said that while he was not looking for recognition, the money came at a perfect time. He recently enrolled in college classes and has been struggling to find a way to pay for it. He was afraid he would have to drop out.
“It was a total God thing for me,” he said.
Hays said he keeps in regular contact with Quennia, and went with her to Liliana’s grave on the anniversary of her death in May.
“Even though we don’t know each other very well, I’ve told her that if she ever needs anything, I will always be there for her,” he said.
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152