Edward Yellman is living proof that heroes don't exist just in comic books.
On May 20, 1986, the 31-year-old car mechanic from Fairfax County saved the life of a customer when he jumped into her runaway car and prevented it from crashing into a storefront window.
"I've always been one to react quickly to things. I did something that anyone else would have done," Yellman said.
But the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission saw things differently and this week awarded Yellman the Carnegie Medal for Heroism. Yellman was one of 19 persons in the United States and Canada to receive the award and the accompanying $2,500 check. The commission gives the awards several times a year.
Founded in 1904 by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the commission honors people who have risked their lives to save others. Four of the 19 honored this week died while saving or attempting to save a victim, the commission said.
"The thing that impressed me was Eddie's immediate reaction," said Beverley Fritsche, the Mount Vernon customer Yellman helped. "He realized that I was in danger and without thinking about himself, he came to my rescue. He certainly deserves the Carnegie Medal."
Last May, Fritsche took her car to be serviced at the Hollin Hall Chevron station on Fort Hunt Road where Yellman works. While waiting, she put the car in park and started to get out to talk to an attendant.
When the car started to roll backward, she realized that it was in reverse and tried to get back in. She said she ended up prone on the seat with her left leg hanging out of the car as it rolled onto Fort Hunt Road.
Fritsche said she managed to steer the car into a shopping center parking lot adjacent to the gas station. Her left leg was dragged more than 100 feet along the road, she said.
Yellman said when he saw the runaway car, he ran to it and leaned inside over Fritsche, turning off the ignition and stopping the car a few feet from a storefront window. Yellman then called a rescue squad.
Fritsche's only injury was a badly cut left leg. Yellman was unharmed though he said a new pair of boots he was wearing was destroyed.
"It was quite dangerous. If Eddie had slipped, the front wheel would have run over him," said Fritsche. "I'm convinced this is a miracle."
Yellman said he is proud to receive the medal and plans to put the award money into an Individual Retirement Account. But he is also a little embarrassed by the attention.
"I'm a quiet person. I like to keep a low profile. I'm a little nervous with all these people around now. I was just doing my job," he said, adding that he doesn't expect his life to change much because of the award.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission has given out $16.7 million in 83 years. This year 700 people were nominated to receive the award and in 1987, 55 people have received them, said Walter Rutkowski of the commission.
The commission learned about Yellman through a local newspaper article that appeared last year when he received a certificate from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.