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District and city pair up to honor hometown heroes who rescued a family from a burning car. 

COURTESY PHOTO: WEST LINN-WILSONVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT - The quick thinking and bravery of two high school basketball coaches saved three lives on Dec. 21. The school district and city joined together to honor them. On Tuesday, Feb. 8, right before a girls varsity basketball game, coaches Brooke Cates and John VanAcker were recognized by their community for an act of heroism.

On Dec. 19, the West Linn High School basketball team was in Arizona competing in a Nike Tournament of Champions game. While they were driving back from dinner one night, a car traveling in front of them was hit by another and spun out of control. It hit a side embankment before stalling in front of the team's vans.

Without a second thought, Cates and VanAcker jumped from their vehicle and went to help. Inside the damaged car they found a mother and two kids. The mom had been knocked unconscious. After helping the children from the car, and placing them in the care of another bystander, they noticed the car was smoking and soon was up in flames.

"John went in when the car was literally on fire because this woman was still strapped in there and completely unconscious. At this point it was now or never," Cates said.

After VanAcker retrieved the woman, Cates, a physical education teacher at Baker Prairie Middle School, discovered she wasn't breathing and performed CPR.

"It was all so stressful. But, you just go into automatic mode during these situations," she said. "I got her breathing, right as the actual EMTs and fire trucks arrived. But the whole car was like a big bonfire."

The coaches then checked in on their players, who had witnessed the entire scene. Cates said the event was life changing in ways, and taught them that life is precious.

After hearing about the event, West Linn High School Athletic Director Brigham Baker shared the story of the duo's heroism with the district administration. Superintendent Kathy Ludwig and West Linn Mayor Jules Walters then joined together to surprise the coaches with plaques that honored them as local heroes in front of their community. Communications director Andrew Kilstrom said the award is only given on special occasions, and this is beyond deserved.

"It was a special night. And it brought that moment right back. I was getting teary eyed again." Cates said. "But John and I were just happy to help. We were just at the right place at the right time with the right training — and we just wanted to help out."


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