KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A Knoxville police officer is now back home after being awarded the Medal of Valor Wednesday in Washington D.C.
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Officer Andrew Michael Keith earned it for helping to save the life of Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Lowell Russell on March 13, 2012.
Lowell had just finished a traffic stop on the side of Interstate 40 in Knoxville when a semi truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into the back of Russell’s cruiser. Keith was one of the first on the scene and remembers the car bursting into flames with Russell trapped inside.
“When you’re up by the car you had to hold your breath. You couldn’t breathe the air because it was so hot,” Keith said.
Keith acted quickly by taking a shirt to beat back the flames from Russell. He and several other rescuers were then able to pull Russell out of his burning car.
“It was a big team effort. I don’t feel like I really stood out above anyone. We all just worked together as best we could to get Lowell out of the car and keep him from perishing in the flames,” Keith said.
Russell was there watching as Keith walked up to get his Medal of Valor, which was placed around his neck by Vice President Joe Biden. Russell has recovered well. He’s a certified pilot and even flew himself to the ceremony.
“Officer Keith went above and beyond the call of duty that night and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him,” Russell said.
“I feel like God put everybody in their place to do a job and we all did the job He asked us to do and that’s why Lowell is here,” Keith said.
Russell recently released ‘Trial by Fire,’ a book about the crash and his recovery.