LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's one of the nation's highest honors of bravery - The Carnegie Medal - and it only comes after a full investigation of facts when someone risks their life to an extraordinary degree to save someone else.
The baseball players at Louisville Slugger Field are not the only heroes in the ballpark. The Louisville Bats Head Groundskeeper Tom Nielsen is one of two Louisville men getting the Carnegie Medal for saving a woman's life.
Nielsen thought getting grass to grow in the middle of downtown Louisville was the most stressful thing in his life until the night of January 6, 2012.
Nielsen was headed southbound on Interstate 71 when he saw an erratic driver in front of him. "They were swerving and going into the median," he remembered. Worried for other families on the road, Nielsen called 911 and kept following the Nissan for several miles, then just past Zorn Avenue the car lost control, went into the median and hit the crossover barrier.
He pulled over.
"I decided, well I'm going to go run back and see if this person's alright," he said. Nielsen go out of his vehicle and walked across traffic in the dark, "I happened to be wearing all black," he recalled, "I go, this is crazy, why am I doing this?"
He knew why as soon as he laid eyes on Irmagene Lambert, 70.
Lambert, who is a diabetic, said she had a seizure, "When you're blood sugar begins to drop like that, you're disoriented and you don't known where you are." When she wrecked her doors were locked, the accelerator was roaring and the muffler and engine were smoking.
Nielsen said, "I got the window down a little and I tried to pull to see if I could snap the window." It didn't work. He tried to kick it in as smoke turned into flames and a man named James Terry came over to help.
"Somebody came up behind me, that was Mr. Terry and he noticed that the support beam for the crossover barrier was knocked out of the ground," Nielsen said, "He picked it up and I grabbed it and I went over and took two swings at the window and on the second swing, it busted!"
Nielsen and Terry struggled to get Mrs.Lambert out. "Now there's fire underneath the car and behind the car by the gas tank and now I'm really getting worried," Nielsen said.
Dazed, Lambert fell across the seat.
"A woman came up behind us," Nielsen remembered, "she said you guys are on fire and we looked down and we're standing in flames!"
As Terry pulled at Lambert's feet two truck drivers came up with fire extinguishers at just at the right moment. Nielsen said of the car, "It was just a matter of seconds before that car was completely engulfed."
Lambert said of her heroes, "It was a miracle from God, he used those men to pull me out and to save my life." Nielsen now calls Terry his brother and Lambert continually sends them cards.
Nielsen and Terry were honored by the Louisville Metro Council, but Lambert and city leaders knew the heroes deserved one more pat on the back.
Of both men getting the Carnegie Medal Nielsen said, "I wouldn't be able to do it without him and it was just neat that we were both recognized."
Lambert agreed, "It just brings tears to my eyes because, really I'm not supposed to be here."
James Terry was under the weather Thursday night, but he tells WAVE 3 News by phone, he's so happy he was in the right place at the right time.
Both men will receive their actual Carnegie Medal in a few weeks.