Clinton Blackburn always wondered what kind of man he was. This past Wednesday, he got to find out.
“I always wondered,” he said. “You see stuff on TV, and you hear it on the radio. Somebody got killed, or somebody helped somebody and lost their life in the process, but this person was saved. I always wondered am I that kind of person if it came down to it.”
Blackburn, 44, a 15-year veteran of over-the-road trucking, hauls oil and other automotive products for Apollo Oil in Winchester, Ky. On March 12, he was eastbound driving back from Madisonville on the Bluegrass Parkway near mile marker 15 in Nelson County, when he observed a Spencer County Sheriff’s Department cruiser, driven by jailer Darrell Herndon in the westbound lane, lurch toward the median and stop.
“About the time I got up to where he was at, he flung his driver’s door open. And when I looked, I could see the prisoner, leaning through that glass over the seat,” Blackburn said in a phone interview with Land Line on Friday. “He had (Herndon) in a chokehold. I hit the brakes and shot it off the side of the road.”
Blackburn said he had to dash about 50 yards from where his rig stopped, to where the struggle was taking place. By the time he got there, the juvenile prisoner was all the way through the window and was still choking the deputy, whose seat belt kept him trapped in the seat.
“(Herndon) was already just about gone when I got there,” he said. “He sputtered out ‘Help me’ and I just said, ‘Brother, hang on. I’m here to help.’”
The scuffle between Blackburn and the prisoner took place around the jailer and through the driver’s side door. While struggling to free Herndon from the chokehold, Blackburn said the prisoner went for the jailer’s gun and got it out of the holster.
“He got the gun out of the holster, and pulled the gun up to the officer’s side, which at that moment, if he’d shot, he could’ve got both of us with one shot,” he said. “It would’ve went through the officer’s gut on into mine.”
Once he saw the gun was out of the holster, Blackburn said he did the only thing he could think to do: Grab the barrel and point it into the car’s dashboard.
“He was hollering ‘I’m gonna kill you! I’m gonna kill you both!’” he said. “I grabbed the gun away from the jailer’s side and when I did I kind of pulled it up in front of me with my right arm. I realized I needed to do something. I grabbed the barrel with my left hand and pushed it toward the dash so if he did fire, it was going to go in the dashboard.”
In the struggle, the jailer managed to release his seat belt and roll out of the vehicle, giving Blackburn more room to maneuver.
“He was trying to push the gun back on me and I realized if I could twist the gun around back to him, I could break his fingers,” he said. “He had no choice but to let go, and when he let go I grabbed the gun and drawed it up on him. He throwed his hands back and said, ‘I quit! I quit! I give up!”
At that point, Blackburn said he began to back his way out of the vehicle. He said Herndon was beginning to come to his senses as well. But the prisoner made one more desperate attempt to flee.
Realizing the keys were still in the car, the teen tried to start the car and drive away, but Blackburn and Herndon subdued him. At that point, Blackburn said, “My adrenaline was starting to back off.”
“Hell, I was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane,” he said, describing his reaction as he handed the gun back to Herndon. “We hugged and he thanked me. He told me if there’s anything ever in this world that he could do for me, he would do it, just call him. I told him: ‘Brother there ain’t but one thing we’re gonna do when all this is said and done. You and me’s gonna get together and we gonna go have a steak dinner and, by golly, I’m buying it.’”
Hendon had been transporting the juvenile detainee from Spencer County to a holding facility in Elizabethtown, roughly 50 miles southwest. Blackburn said the jailer told him the prisoner had been complaining of pains before he attacked him.
“From what I understand, the boy kept going on about something hurting,” he said. “He was wanting (Herndon) to stop. The jailer opened the glass to tell him he couldn’t stop, but before he knew it, the boy was coming through that glass on him. He had cuffs on but he’d worked his way out of them.”
“He had one of those belts where they handcuff you to your belly. He’d worked his way out of those handcuffs and had his hands free. I don’t know how he was gonna run away, because he had shackles on.”
Herndon’s colleagues in the Spencer County Sheriff’s Department said they are equally grateful for Blackburn’s intervention.
“It’s our belief that that man is a hero,” Maj. Carl Reesor said in a phone interview with Land Line. “The total gratitude of our department goes out to him. That’s not an action you see every day. And thank God that we have people like him and citizens that get involved and would help an officer like that.”
For his part, Blackburn said he has his own ideas about who the real heroes are.
“I’m just an old country boy,” he said. “People on the Internet and Facebook and stuff calling me a hero. I’m not a hero. That’s the last thing I am. The men and women out here, who got the badges, wearing the uniforms, driving the fire trucks and ambulances, fighting the wars. They’re the heroes. They do it every single day.
“All I done was I was willing to give my life to save that man’s life, one time. All I done was repay the debt that is owed to him and every other person that has put their life on the line for someone else,” Blackburn said.
“When I saw what was happening, I knew if I didn’t stop, (Herndon) may not go home,” he said. “That’s what was on my mind the whole time. As soon as I’d seen it, I’ve got to do something. This man was in a bad way. You could see it in his face. He needed help. I just thought, ‘This man’s going home.’”
It was in the moment he passed by and saw the look on Herndon’s face that he knew he had to do more than just call 911.
“When I was running up to help him, I can’t tell you how many cars drove by and I seen them with their phone in their hand dialing 911,” he said. They could’ve been there five or six seconds before me. I’m a pretty good-size boy; I don’t run so well …
“Anybody can sit and say, ‘Hey I would’ve done the same thing.’ How many people that drove by that situation have said, ‘Well I would’ve done the same thing’? But when it came down to doing it, they drove by and they picked the phone up and called 911. I always wondered which person am I? Am I the person that’s gonna pick up the phone and dial 911 and hope somebody gets there in time? Or am I gonna be the type of person that’s gonna get out of my truck and be that person who’s gonna sacrifice his life if that’s what it come to. I’m glad to know I’m that person.”
But what about Blackburn’s own family? What would they think if he’d been a victim instead of a hero?
“If that’s what had happened, and if something happened and neither of us ended up going home, my family would have been proud to know of what I tried to do,” he said. “I was ready to give my life to save his.”
If there is one label Blackburn said he’s willing to accept, it’s the one bestowed on him by the Spencer County Sheriff’s Facebook page – “Guardian Angel.”
“I feel like if I’m anything, I’m more that, because God put me in that spot at that time,” he said. “There was a lot of things that happened that day and a lot of things that didn’t happen that day to put me in that spot at that moment. I wasn’t even supposed to be in the state of Kentucky this week. I was supposed to go to Georgia.”
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