Red Cross gala to honor 11 heroes from Whatcom, Skagit counties

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 4, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - Quick reflexes by strangers might have saved a young boy from getting beaten to death in a Ferndale street earlier this year.

So two Whatcom County women will be awarded as good Samaritans for their efforts Thursday evening, Dec. 5, at a fundraiser for the Mt. Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Sherry Rials and her 73-year-old mom, Marlene, were driving up Douglas Road on a warm, bright Monday evening in May, on their way to Hovander Homestead Park. They came across four tall teenage boys - around 16 or 17 - beating up a preteen boy in the middle of the street, near Grant's Burgers. His body flailed on the ground "like a rag doll," they said. Sherry pulled over, but before she could react, Marlene hopped out and shouted, "Stop! ... Stop!"

The teens stopped. Three of them jumped into a waiting white pickup. The fourth boy stared at her and tried to justify the beating: He claimed the victim had tried to break into his apartment. But that sounded like no excuse to Marlene. She asked why they didn't call police.

Meanwhile, two men in their 30s leaned against a car parked on the roadside and looked on.

"Like it's a picnic," Marlene said. "They were cracking up, thinking it's so funny."

The men drove off, and so did the teens - when Sherry shouted that she was calling 911. Marlene and Sherry were so frazzled they didn't get the license plate of either vehicle. The boy got up, doubled over but not bleeding, then fled north on a bike.

The Rials never did call 911.

"What am I going to report?" Sherry recalled thinking. "I have no specifics."

In retrospect, she wishes they had. Instead they drove around for 20 minutes searching for the victim, in a neighborhood full of cul de sacs and dead ends, to make sure he was all right. They never found him.

Later they got a phone call from police when the story showed up in the Ferndale Record-Journal. But it all happened in less than a minute, they said, and they wouldn't have been able to identify the suspects.

So it's regrettable, they said, that they couldn't help catch the attackers. But to the Rials, that's not really the point.

"You can do something - even if you're female, even if you're 70," Sherry said. "At least you stand and bear witness."

Reservations needed to be made in advance to attend the Red Cross ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday at Best Western, 714 Lakeway Drive. The BP Cherry Point refinery sponsors the event. The Red Cross hopes to raise $105,000 for local relief efforts.

Here's a summary of other awards to be handed out, according to the Red Cross.

- Gift of Life Hero: Faye Whitney, a Skagit County 911 dispatcher, performed CPR on a floor installer who collapsed while doing work at her home. Paramedics credited Whitney with saving the man's life.

- Armed Services Support Hero: Laurie Fueston created the Josh Fueston Memorial Swim to Live event to increase awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder. Her son, Josh, 19, took his own life in 2009 after a tour of duty in Iraq. Proceeds from the fundraiser go to fighting PTSD and teaching swimming - one of Josh's passions - to low-income kids.

- Always on Duty Hero: Daniel Howard had been returning home from a vacation in Oregon when he saw a car in front of him driving erratically. He called 911 to report the car just before it crashed into a barrier and burst into flames. He used a personal fire extinguisher to fight the flames, then rescued two occupants from the car, with help from an on-duty state trooper.

- Spirit of the Red Cross Hero: Jennifer Barker and Tim Gebhard. Barker was driving on Samish Island when she spotted taillights in a deep ditch along the road. She stopped and found a van sinking into the water, with the driver trapped. Barker flagged down Gebhard, a passing driver, who grabbed a hammer from his truck, slid into the freezing water and broke out the window. They pulled the driver, Sigi Bell, to safety just as the van went completely underwater.

- Lifetime Achievement Hero: Nan Barbo, a school nurse, has volunteered with the American Red Cross since World War II. She has been deployed to 90 disasters and mentored thousands of nurses.

- Water Rescue Heroes: Nicole Vojkovich, Sedro-Woolley Police Officer Rhonda Lasley and Bruce Engle helped save a fisherman, Don Childs, stranded in the Skagit River in freezing January weather. Vojkovich, an intern from the University of Washington, was on a ridealong with Lasley when the emergency call came in. Engle, a former search and rescue team member, swooped in with his boat to help rescue the man, who was found clinging to a logjam. Childs survived.

Reach Caleb Hutton at caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2276. Read his Dispatcher blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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