A New Franklin man’s efforts to help an 83-year-old woman involved in an auto accident on June 11 were recognized Wednesday by City Council.
Dustin Nist was returning home from his job at Graves Lumber that Thursday when he saw a 1993 Buick Roadmaster run a stop sign, pass over railroad tracks and plunge into the Tuscarawas River near the Clinton fire station.
"I jogged over to see where the car was," said Nist, a Kent State student majoring in business management, before receiving the award Tuesday from Council.
As another driver in a white van called 911, Nist went into the nearby fire station to report what had happened.
Nist said the Buick had gone down a hill and sunk at an angle. The driver’s side was completely submerged, but the passenger side remained above water.
He looked for something to break a window and found a broken piece of railroad tie.
"It was definitely an intense moment," Nist said. "I noticed it was underwater and I went for it."
Nist broke through brush to get to the car and swam to the passenger side, which remained partly above water. Inside was an older woman with water up to her neck. He was able to break through the passenger side back window.
"The lady was leaning against the passenger side window," Nist said. "… I was talking to the lady, letting her know it’s all right."
Nist was able to get the Cleveland woman to unlock her door, but he decided not to try to get her out. He wasn’t sure about the extent of her injuries and didn’t want to take a chance he’d make them worse.
The river was up to the woman’s neck, but the car had stabilized and the water wasn’t rising.
While talking with the woman, Nist realized that a driver was submerged on the other side of the vehicle.
"At that point, my heart kind of sunk," he said.
Clinton Fire personnel arrived and helped remove the woman from the vehicle with assistance from the New Franklin and Coventry fire departments. Nist said emergency personnel then used a side-by-side ATV to get her up the hill and take her to a local hospital.
The woman survived with minor injuries. The driver, an older man from Cleveland, was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Nist is modest about his efforts that day, but said he was acting out of instinct and just glad he could help.
"The adrenaline was so much, [I] didn’t think twice about," he said.
Nist said he was contacted by a relative of the woman, who thanked him for his efforts.
He also made his grandfather proud. In a June 24 letter to the editor published in the Beacon Journal, Don Nist of Canton wrote that his grandson "nonchalantly" told him about his actions after he mentioned an article in the newspaper about the accident.
"These are the stories we need in these troubled times," Don Nist wrote.
New Franklin’s mayor and Council agreed, and on Wednesday they presented Nist with a certificate of meritorious service.
Mayor Paul Adamson said before the ceremony that Nist’s actions were worthy of recognition from the city.
"There are plenty of good people everywhere, but we like to think this is the way young folks are raised out here, and Dustin is an outstanding example of that," Adamson said via email. "He saw a dramatic need, and he instinctively responded. In doing so, he brought honor to himself, his family and his community."
Also Wednesday, Summit County Councilwoman Bethany McKenney presented Nist with a commendation from county council.
"Dustin is a true hometown hero," McKenney said.
Nist said he just wanted to help someone who had been involved in a traumatic accident.
"I saw it and I just wanted to do something about it," he said.
Alan Ashworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.