A Mays Landing man will receive a Carnegie medal for intervening to help a police office engaged in a struggle with a man who had taken the officer’s handgun.
Thomas St. John Harding, 51, is one of 22 recipients of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s quarterly Carnegie Medals announced Thursday.
The national medals are given to civilians who engage in random acts of heroism, some awarded posthumously. Since the fund’s inception in 1904, 9,633 people have received the award; fewer than 100 are given each year. Carnegie medalists or their heirs receive financial grants.
Harding’s act of heroism took place in April 2011 in Elmer, Salem County, where he was driving on a dark and rainy evening and encountered Sgt. Steve Felice, of the Elmer Police Department, engaged in a struggle with someone in the middle of the road.
“It was raining so hard, I thought someone had hit a deer, but when I got closer I saw it was a man in the road, and then I thought maybe someone had hit a hitchhiker,” Harding recalled. “But then I saw it was a police officer on top of a man, and I thought he was giving him CPR or medical attention.”
According to Felice’s account of the incident, he was struggling on the ground with a suspect who grabbed his handgun from its holster.
“The gun was coming toward me, and I was doing everything I could to keep it away from both of us,” Felice said. “This was all happening in the middle of the road, while several cars were passing by, none of of them stopping, except Harding.”
Felice said Harding pulled up nearby and yelled, “Are you OK?”
Felice responded, ‘He’s got my gun.’
“I wanted him to know this was a dangerous, potentially life-threatening, situation,” Felice said.
But instead of speeding up, Harding exited his vehicle and ran toward them, jumping on top of the man and helping Sgt. Felice recover his weapon and make the arrest.
“I’ve been a police officer for 23 years, and I’ve seen a lot. But for somebody to be as courageous in his actions as he was says so much about his character. His thought was to help me, not of himself,” Felice said. “I give him all the credit and gratitude in the world.”
Felice said he doesn’t know who nominated Harding for the Carnegie honor.
Harding also doesn’t know who nominated him. Though he is honored, he doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“Everyone is still calling me a hero, but I don’t like that word,” he said. “It was just an impulsive (reaction). He needed help, and I happened to be there.”
He said looking back, he now realizes he could have died, but he doesn’t regret his decision.
“I did what my gut told me to do. If someone needs help, you help them,” he said.
In 2012, the Elmer Borough Council and Salem County recognized Harding for his act. Also in 2012, he received the Best Security Personnel award during Atlantic City’s annual hospitality industry workers award ceremony for his position as an investigator at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
The Carnegie awards were started by steel baron Andrew Carnegie, who was inspired by rescue stories from a mine disaster that killed 181 people.
The others honored Thursday were from New Jersey, California, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas, Tennessee, Maine, Rhode Island, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota, Virginia and Ontario and Saskatchewan, Canada.
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