By Sam Tyson email | Twitter
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - In the early morning hours of June 12, the lives of nearly a dozen people crossed paths on I-95 when a drunk driver -- and then a tractor trailer -- collided with an SUV, overturning the vehicle and sending a 17-month-old baby into the waters of Lake Marion.
While the Cardoso family trapped inside the overturned SUV called out for help, three men did the most heroic thing they could -- they blocked off the interstate and descended a 65-foot embankment into Lake Marion to save baby Mia Cardoso.
Wednesday, Mahlon Wallace, David Bernier and Edward Balasia were honored by the South Carolina Highway Patrol for their heroic acts.
"Had it not been for you formulating some plan, staying calm and helping secure the scene, this tragedy could have resulted in more deaths," Lancaster said.
They were presented the "Citizen Award," an invention of Lancaster's designed to pay tribute each year to someone who rises to help someone in distress when emergency personnel are not on the scene.
The three men were honored on the campus of The Citadel in downtown Charleston.
Wallace and Bernier, both former Marines, were on their way to North Carolina when they saw the tractor trailer with its flashers on stopped in the highway. They moved over to go around the truck when they spotted the scene of the accident.
"We had just made mention that the road was clear and there was nothing going on," Wallace said.
The two men pulled their truck across the highway to secure the scene and prevent any further accidents from happening. They managed to free one child from the overturned SUV when the family said their missing baby was in Lake Marion.
Wallace and Bernier climbed down the embankment and Wallace swam out to retrieve the girl while Bernier guided his friend with a flashlight and voice commands. By the time Wallace made his way back to the shore, Balasia was there and the three men pulled each other back up the 65-foot embankment and back on to the highway.
"We thought we were the only chance she had," Berneir said.
"There is no way you can look over that rail and see that little girl floating there and not have some compassion for her or for the family," Wallace said.
The baby was unresponsive, but several minutes of CPR by Bernier brought back the baby's pulse and breathing until paramedics arrived. Unfortunately, the child later died at a nearby hospital, but Lancaster pointed to the heroic efforts that saved the baby and put her back in the hands of her family one last time.
"They let the Cardoso family be able to say, 'Bye,' be able to touch and feel the baby one more time, be a part of the family one more time," Lancaster said. "They give some life back to this family by their actions."
Officials charged a Barnwell woman with a felony DUI in the accident. Her SUV sideswiped the Cardoso's SUV, sending it into the guardrail and then causing it to flip over. As a result, the work is not over for Wallace, Bernier and Balasia. They have been giving testimony and making court appearances.
"This is not over for these civilians. They have a long way to go with this case," Lancaster said. "These are true heroes."
While the effort of the three men seems superhuman in some regard, all three modestly agree that it was the right thing to do.
"It was our job because we were there, we were capable and we were able to help," Wallace said.
"What I did was neither heroic or courageous," Balasia said. "All I did was react."
By Sam Tyson email | Twitter