By Dan Campana
Two Lincolnshire Police Explorer program cadets earned high praise from the mayor of their hometown who recognized the teens for rescuing a woman from a burning vehicle earlier this month.
Kyle O’Malley, a 2018 Geneva High School graduate, and John Schneider, who started his senior year sat the school this week, appeared at Monday’s Geneva City Council meeting where they were honored by Mayor Kevin Burns and other city officials for their life-saving efforts on Interstate 88 on Aug. 11.
“You guys deserve the attention. You deserve the praise. Your friends are obviously proud of you. This community is proud of you,” Burns said during a ceremony which included proclaiming Tuesday “Kyle O’Malley and John Schneider Hometown Heroes Day.”
O’Malley and Schneider were traveling west on the tollway when they spotted “two large fire balls” in the eastbound lanes, Schneider explained. After O’Malley pulled over his car, the young men ran along the median and hopped it to find an unconscious woman in one of the vehicles.
“We were really thinking at that point, we were just acting on instinct,” O’Malley said.
Those acts included tracking down a fire extinguisher from the driver of a semi-truck stopped in traffic; knocking down flames to get close enough to the car to attempt to free the woman; using a flashlight to try to crack the windshield; cutting the woman’s seatbelt; and, with the help of another man, pulling her out of the wreckage. The pair then did a medical assessment on the woman – and even took the time to check on others involved in the three-vehicle crash.
After giving statements to Illinois State Police investigators, the pair – returning to Geneva after assisting with traffic control at a festival in Lincolnshire – continued on their way home . The magnitude of what had just occurred took a little time before registering fully.
“It takes an emotional, mental and physical toll being in a critical incident like that,” O’Malley said with a tone more fitting for a seasoned police veteran than a college freshman. “It didn’t hit us until everything settled down and we were back in the car.”
While a few phone calls with family started to flow as they drove, the pair stopped off to see O’Malley’s parents who were visiting friends.
“Boy, do we have a story for you,” O’Malley recalled telling his parents.
Indeed they did. Although each of them credited others for their assistance, the description of events O’Malley and Schneider shared with a packed crowd inside the council chambers made it clear they were leaders who made the difference in those critical moments after the crash.
“We’re here to recognize your extraordinary heroism, your selfless acts, your expression of humanity that we don’t often see – particularly in people as young as you,” Burns said.
In addition to the proclamation and city honors, they each received a commendation from ISP officials who attended the meeting. As the pair stood before the council and smiled for pictures, proud family members happily sat in the audience taking in the moment.
“O’Malley and Schneider risked life and limb in their efforts to rescue the vehicle’s occupant,” Burns read from the proclamation. “The city of Geneva recognizes their heroism and bravery in helping to save the life of a fellow driver.”
Helping motorists is nothing new for members of the Lincolnshire Police Explorer Post. Two years ago while traveling in Arizona for a national conference, explorer cadets and the program leader, Commander Jamie Watson, came to the aid of a motorcyclist who had crashed on an interstate mountain pass. Schneider was among three cadets on the trip and assisted with traffic control on the highway.