KALKASKA — Loren Hazen’s death still brings his mother Barb Woodhams to tears. Every day.
Hazen, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, died July 17, 2011, as he saved his friend Andrew Killingsworth from drowning in Torch Lake. The Orange Township resident was 21.
Woodhams said the pain is still “astronomical,” but she finds solace in knowing her son lived to help people.
“I know he’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she said. “That’s what gives me my peace is that he did it his way.”
Hazen was among 22 Carnegie Hero award recipients announced Thursday. Andrew Carnegie founded the award in 1904 to recognize American and Canadian individuals who risked their lives to an extraordinary degree to save others. Twenty percent of recipients die in the act.
“They knowingly leave a place of safety and enter a place of danger,” said Doug Chambers, spokesman for the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.
Hazen was swimming from Torch Lake’s Cedar Street Access site with three friends — Killingsworth, Chadwick Duran and Stephanie Graves — on a hot July day. Their course to a sandbar was met with alternately shallow and deep water and Killingsworth grew tired in a deep spot.
“I went under and called back for help,” he said.
Graves and Duran took turns attempting to help Killingsworth, but he was in a panic and pulled them both under water.
“I thought I was going to die,” Graves said. “When you have a panic you’ve got the strongest person in the world.”
Hazen swam back to help his friends. They remember him going underwater to hold Killingsworth above the surface.
“The image of Loren coming up for that last breath is going to be stuck in my mind for the rest of my life,” Graves said.
Killingsworth, 20, has no doubt Hazen saved his life.
“I felt like when Chad and Stephanie had gotten away from me … I was going to drown,” he said.
Killingsworth was rescued by a nearby boater, but Hazen could not be saved.
Duran, 25, said he was lifelong friends with Hazen, sharing interests and their experiences on Boardman Fire Department together. Killingsworth is his current partner in the department.
“I don’t blame Andrew for anything that occurred that day,” he said. “He does what he does in Loren’s name.”
Graves, 20, joined the department in Hazen’s honor.
“He treated me like I was his little sister,” she said. “I only knew him four months, but I felt I knew him my whole life.”
Duran said it’s difficult to fully express what the award means to Hazen’s friends and family.
“Loren went the way he wanted to,” he said. “The fact he saved that kid’s life, that did not go unnoticed. It’s a tragedy to the people involved or outside, but it’s an amazing accomplishment.”
Woodhams doesn’t know who nominated her son for the award. She said he once could not make the promise every parent wants to hear:
“I said to him to promise that you’ll always come home to me. He looks me in the eye and says, ‘Mom I can’t promise you that, but I promise I’ll always try. I want you to know if I die trying to save someone’s life it was worth it to me.’”