Jasper officers Grant Goffinet and Brent Duncan were honored with a Carnegie Hero Medal for their actions to save a Jasper man from a burning vehicle in 2018.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awards the Carnegie Medal to individuals from throughout the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.
The two officers are among 15 named by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission today.
With this second announcement of 2020 recipients, a total of 10,168 Carnegie Medals have been awarded since the Pittsburgh-based Fund’s inception in 1904. Commission Chair Mark Laskow said each of the awardees or their survivors will also receive a financial grant. Throughout the 116 years since the Fund was established by industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, $41.8 million has been given in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits, and continuing assistance.
Here is a story about the incident.
As Jasper Police Officer Grant Goffinet pulled up on the crash early Sunday morning, he was relieved to see a woman lying in the road.
Relieved because the callers had said there was a person entrapped in a burning vehicle off the side of 15th Street.
A group of bystanders near the woman waved him down with flashlights as he approached. Behind them, a car on its side was in flames.
“I thought, ‘Oh thank God, they got her out before it caught on fire. These guys (bystanders) are really on it,'” he explained.
He had beat Jasper Officer Brent Duncan to the crash by a couple seconds but his relief was only momentary as he was told that someone was still in the burning vehicle. The woman, Milagro Cortez Funes, who suffered a broken leg, had dragged herself from the Nissan Rogue that was on its side.
Goffinet grabbed the fire extinguisher from his car and ran to the where the SUV was on its side off the road. He looked in the car and saw a man —Rene Antonio Vanegas — unconscious in the front passenger seat.
Since the Nissan was on its side, Goffinet could see through the undercarriage that the engine compartment was on fire. He hit it with the fire extinguisher but seconds later the fire roared back to life.
He began searching for a way into the small SUV. Thinking it may have a sunroof, he ran to the other side but unfortunately, the vehicle didn’t have one.
He considered climbing up on top of the driver’s side to see if he could pull the man up through the door but the flames were encroaching along the side of the car that was on the ground.
He went to the rear of the Nissan and found the hatch window had been destroyed in the crash so he pushed through into the interior.
As Goffinet tried to reach the man, Officer Duncan ran to the front of the vehicle and hit the flames with his fire extinguisher. “You would have thought my extinguisher was filled with gasoline,” Duncan said. “When I sprayed it, the flames just shot up.”
Meanwhile, as Goffinet was attempting to reach the man in the SUV his duty belt became wedged in the window frame. Only able to get about halfway in he began to call to the man.
“Thankfully, he began moving around,” Goffinet said about the victim.
But things were beginning to sizzle and pop in the passenger compartment. “A week before, I had a problem with a gas line in my car and I was just thinking of how that gas shot out of the line everywhere,” he explained. “I was thinking, ‘that’s how much gas is in those gas lines right now.'”
Thinking he had only moments to save the man who was still out of reach, Goffinet began calling for the man to move towards him. “Come to me. Come to me.” he called and the man began moving.
At about that time, somehow, Duncan had also pushed his way into the window frame and between the two of them, they were able to grab the man and begin pulling him out.
“Something sounding like a steaming pot was going off in the car,” Duncan said. “I wondered how much time we had.”
Thinking they were out of time, the two quickly pulled him out of the rear window falling to the ground. The victim moaned but the two officers knew they had to get away from the burning SUV. With the help of a bystander, they carried the man up to the side of the road away from the burning wreck. While Duncan tended to the victim, Goffinet pulled his car up to provide a barrier.
When he got out of his police car, he could see the wreck was fully engulfed.
They agreed it was a harrowing experience. Both officers are 28-years-old and they are married with children.
“There was a moment while I was in there and he (the victim) wasn’t responding and I thought ‘at what point do I back out?’,” Goffinet said. “There would have been some hard choices to make but luckily he started moving around.”
Goffinet commended the bystanders for their actions to help.
“That speaks a lot to the citizens of Jasper and this community,” Goffinet said.
“We were in the right place at the right time to save that guy and any other officer would have done the same thing,” Goffinet said acknowledged.
Duncan agreed and added that someone was watching over everyone involved in the incident for them to have escaped relatively unscathed.
Jasper Fire Chief Kenny Hochgesang commended their actions that night.
“Without their efforts that evening that person would have perished in the fire,” he said. “When we arrived on the scene the flames were 30 feet high — high as the trees out there. It is amazing the efforts these two individuals made.”