Utahn to receive Carnegie Medal after saving boy from truck submerged in reservoir

Sep 25, 2023, 2:58 PM | Updated: Sep 26, 2023, 12:56 pm

(Jay Hancock/KSL TV)...

(Jay Hancock/KSL TV)

(Jay Hancock/KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah resident is being honored with the Carnegie Medal for heroism after risking his life to save a child stuck inside a car that was sinking into a reservoir.

Joseph D. Donnell, 55, of Kamas, Utah, was kayaking on Aug. 22, 2022, when he saw a truck roll forward into Smith and Morehouse Reservoir. Three children were inside the truck at the time it fell into the 60-degree water. Others rescued two children, ages 2 and 9. However, 9-year-old Paxton K. Knight remained in the sinking vehicle.

Child hospitalized, another two rescued after truck submerges in Summit County reservoir

Donnell, who was a retired state park ranger, removed his life vest and exited his kayak, swimming to the truck. He had to fully submerge to enter the truck and felt around the backseat area and floorboards for Paxton in the murky water.

Unable to find him, Donnell returned to the surface for air before diving again. He entered the truck through a rear door and searched for Paxton with his hands. Witnesses said Donnell dove at least six times. On his final dive, Donnell felt Paxton’s clothing, pulled him to his chest, exited the truck, and returned to the surface. Donnell swam, carrying Paxton to the bank where he and others began CPR on the boy. After approximately 15 minutes, Paxton regained a faint pulse.

Paxton was taken by helicopter to the hospital, where he remained for eight days. He has now made a full recovery. Donnell was tired and cold but ultimately uninjured.

Joseph D. Donnell of Kamas, Utah

The Carnegie Hero Fund recognizes citizens who risked serious injury or death to save others in acts of extraordinary heroism.

Each individual receives the Carnegie Medal, the highest honor for civilian heroism in North America.

According to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, “With this announcement, the Carnegie Medal has been awarded to 10,387 individuals since the inception of the Pittsburgh-based Fund in 1904.”

The people saved by this quarter’s Carnegie Medal recipients are eight children: including an 18-month-old whose father was threatening to drop her from an overpass 40 feet above a parking lot, two sisters trapped inside their burning home, and a 7-year-old trapped under a capsized boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Utahn to receive Carnegie Medal after saving boy from truck submerged in reservoir