Flames broke out after the semi-trailer truck, left, slammed into a Chevy Trailblazer near the 27th Street interchange in Lincoln in a September 2020 crash. (courtesy Nebraska State Patrol)
LINCOLN — After watching a semi-trailer truck slam into an SUV, pinning it against a concrete barrier along Interstate 80, Frank Axiotes said he didn’t think twice.
He immediately pulled over, told his wife and son to call 911,and charged across the Interstate to the flaming accident scene.
Axiotes pulled a 9-year-old boy from the back seat of the burning SUV and, along with another bystander, broke out the vehicle’s front window and pulled the child’s sister, the driver, out of the vehicle just before explosions erupted.
“When you see someone in need, it’s easy to walk away or turn your head … but when it’s someone who needs help, you need to be there,” Axiotes.
On Monday, the auto salesman from Elkhorn was honored as one of 17 recipients nationally of the Carnegie Medal for his heroism in the Sept. 25, 2020, crash.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, in presenting the award Monday, described it as North America’s highest honor for civilian heroism.
Not a ‘super hero’
The driver, Maddie Daly, who was 21 at the time of the Sept. 25, 2020, accident, described Axiotes as a “super hero” — a description he rejected Monday.
“I’m just Frank. I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m an uncle, I’m a co-worker,” he said. “It’s just something that happened.”
“I’m not a super hero. I was just somebody who was put in the right place and the right time.”
Monday marked the second time Axiotes was honored as a hero for his response to the accident. Last year, the Nebraska State Patrol presented him with a citizen Public Service Award.
Patrol Lt. Jason Stahl nominated Axiotes for the Patrol’s civilian award as well as the national honor.
Need to recognize those who help
“We truly do need to recognize the people who go out and help other people,” Stahl said.
“We can’t be everywhere, in every situation,” he said of the Patrol. “So it’s our responsibility as good human beings to take care of each other.”
Axiotes said he has experienced some tragedies in his family, and his wife is from a family of first responders.
His mother and a sister, he said, were both working at the Westroads Von Maur store on Dec. 5, 2007, when a 19-year-old man opened fire, killing eight people.
His wife’s father, Michael O’Keefe, is a retired Omaha police officer, and two of Axiotes’ brothers-in-law, Todd and Kevin O’Keefe, are current officers.
Axiotes said he hoped that others would spring to action if his two children were in peril.
“If people need help, and you’re there and willing to lend a hand, do everything you can,” he said. “I didn’t think about it. I just jumped into action.”
He emphasized that another man helped him pull Daly out of the car, but he did not know what happened to the other Good Samaritan.
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