TAMPA — Alec Leslie isn't wild about the attention. He would prefer that his heroic act would be commonplace.
But it isn't; neither is the honor he was given Tuesday.
Leslie is a private first class in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at East Bay High. In October, he helped save the life of an accident victim, using training he learned through Junior ROTC.
On Tuesday, he became the first student in the Hillsborough County School District to receive the Award of Heroism presented by the U.S. Army Cadet Command. He was pinned with the medal by Brigadier General Hector Pagan during a student achievement ceremony.
“It's hard to be super proud and accept all the graciousness from everyone when it was just something that people should do,'' said Leslie, a 17-year-old junior at East Bay High. “It should be a normal thing.''
Leslie was traveling northbound on Interstate 75 in October when he saw a van that had gone off the road near the Apollo Beach exit and had its emergency lights flashing. Leslie pulled over and ran to the van while his friend, Trace Coppedge, called 911.
The driver, Brian McNutt, had gone off the interstate, crossed a small ravine and crashed into an oak tree.
McNutt was unconscious. The engine had been pushed into the cab of the van, and the air bag had deployed.
Leslie carefully held McNutt's head and began to yell to wake him up. It didn't work. He started tapping on his face as he spoke loudly to get him to regain consciousness. After a few taps, McNutt temporarily came to, Leslie said.
McNutt was going in and out of consciousness, but Leslie continued to talk to him about his family and reminding him that help was on its way.
“I kept him awake and conscious,” Leslie said. “I kept him alive until the paramedics got there.”
Because of heavy traffic, it took emergency vehicles about 30 minutes to arrive at the scene, Leslie said.
Leslie mother, Leann Leslie of Ruskin, said she's not pulled over to help a stranger.
“He's always had that helpful side to him,” she said. “He's not the kind of kid that wants that kind of recognition, but he definitely deserves it.”
Leslie, who lives in Ruskin, said he learned first aid and emergency assistance techniques from his 12 years in the Boy Scouts. He also received refresher courses through the Junior ROTC program at East Bay High.
He plans to enlist in the U.S. Army later this year and enter the Army after he graduates high school next year. He wants to pursue a career in the military. He's dreamed of being a U.S. Airborne Ranger since he was 6, he said.
Leslie has become close to McNutt, who has been in the hospital for all but about two weeks of the crash. He visits him regularly at the hospital, where they talk about scouting, hunting, fishing and old western movies. McNutt was also an Eagle Scout.
“It's not like the journey is over,” Leslie said. “This guy is still recovering. There is a long road to recovery, so it's not like it's over for me.”