Man awarded Citizen Heroism Medal for role in 2014 Jordan River rescue

Posted at 9:31 PM, Aug 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-21 23:31:58-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah man who helped save three teenagers trapped inside an SUV that crashed into the Jordan River in 2014 has been awarded one the Salt Lake City Fire Department's highest honors.

Leo Montoya said the rescue in September of 2014 has become one of the most memorable moments of his life, a moment that was captured on video.

A Chevy Tahoe went off a bridge on Indiana Avenue and into the Jordan River below. Three teenagers were trapped in the SUV, which had gone through a fence and a concrete barrier before landing upside down in the water.

“I did hear the loud screeching brakes of the vehicle, and when I heard the boom I just knew it was so horrific,” Montoya said.

Leo and two other men immediately jumped in to help.

“We had so many onlookers on the bridge that didn't know what had happened,” he said. “And I just pleaded for their help, for them to jump into the water and help along with me and all the other bystanders, and let's get this vehicle on the ground—because these kids are not going to live if they don't get oxygen very soon.”

About 20 people helped flip the car over, and all three teens survived. Last month, city leaders unveiled a plaque on the bridge, honoring the bystanders who carried out the rescue.

“I think it's a great monument to what we can do as a neighborhood, as a community," Montoya said.

This week, the Salt Lake City Fire Department awarded Leo their highest civilian honor, the Citizen Heroism Medal.

“It’s a wonderful thing, I can't imagine anything more exciting in a person's life than to be able to be recognized for saving someone’s lives,” Montoya said. “It's really a special moment for me, and I’m going to treasure this until the day I die."

Montoya said there were many heroes that day, and he thanked the other bystanders who jumped in to help save the teens.