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Dramatic rescue of Harrisburg woman from floodwaters

updated: 5/5/2017 6:07 PM

HARRISBURG -- A young man from Thebes who happened to be driving to Eldorado managed to be in the right place at the right time to save the life of a Harrisburg woman Tuesday night.

Citing his courage, bravery and selfless action, the city of Harrisburg recognized Austin McAllister of Thebes for saving the life of a woman whose car was swept off a flooded roadway into deeper floodwaters.

McAllister currently is a student teacher for the Eldorado agriculture program under the direction of Bill Kittinger. Surrounded by members of his family Thursday afternoon inside the Harrisburg Fire Department station, McAllister told how he spent Tuesday helping place sandbags at residences in his hometown for flood victims there.

"I really didn't want to go back, because I was already so tired," he said of returning to Eldorado.

Driving east of Harrisburg, he said he saw lights that didn't quite look right off of Shawnee Hills Road.

"I thought it looked odd, but I knew there were some houses over that direction," he said.

When he looked again, though, it was clear that a car was in floodwaters off of the road. Upon realizing the situation, he "locked up the brakes" coming to a stop and turned around to assist the car. By the time he approached the car and could see that someone was inside, another car also was pulling off Illinois 13 to help.

"I yelled at them to call 911," McAllister said.

At first, he said, he couldn't get the woman from the car. The car's electric door locks would not unlock, the window would not roll down, and McAllister couldn't break the window. Eventually, he hit the window hard enough something changed and it lowered. He helped the woman through the window.

Mayor John McPeek presented McAllister with a certificate and medal honoring his actions.

"We appreciate everything you've done as a citizen," McPeek said.

Fire Chief John Gunning, who also rescued people from a different submerged car in a flooded area Sunday evening, praised McAllister's actions.

"A lot of people see something like that and just sit back on the sidelines instead of doing something about it," Gunning said. "You did something about it. You saved that person's life. As you know, we've been spread thin with all the flooding lately, and you really helped us out."

City Councilwoman Beth Montfort, who joined McPeek, Gunning, Councilman Mike Weirauch and members of the fire department, also spoke highly of McAllister's actions.

"The 'angel in the red truck,' that's what the lady said," Montfort told McAllister.

"God made it happen," McAllister said.

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