We think of heroes as masked defenders in capes and tech-savvy suits, flying through the air and spitting webs at high-rise buildings. We hear the roaring of their fast getaway cars and their superhuman strength that can lift a giant sequoia tree right out of its root. Heroes are courageous. They are brave.
And sometimes, they are local teens.
The actions of Darrell Swilley (16), Isaiha Sansaver (17), Dominic Sansaver (19), Tyran Powell (18), and Kai Tavares (18) show the world that not all heroes wear capes.
A Moment of Perfect Timing
In the early morning hours of July 18, King County Sheriff’s Deputy Elliot was heading home in her marked cruiser when she was flagged down at the scene of a collision near E Valley Access Rd in Auburn. Commissioned law enforcement officers have the authority to enforce laws at all times, even when off-duty or out of jurisdiction, So, Deputy Elliot stopped to assist.
At that exact moment, the five young friends were in the area, picking up one of their brothers. “My brother was at a party,” explained Isaiha Sansaver, “and I told him to call me if he needed a ride.” The fateful encounter happened on their way home.
According to multiple witnesses, the individual who caused the crash appeared to be intoxicated. As Deputy Elliot approached the man, he became violent, and the two struggled. He was able to wrap his arms around her neck during the altercation. With Deputy Elliot in a headlock, the man began choking her.
The five young men sprang into action.
“She reminded me of my mom, and all I could think about was if it was her and getting him off of her,” said Swilley
The teens ran to the scene and saw Deputy Elliot struggling to breathe. Powell remembers her struggling to get out of the headlock. The group fought the man off her and held him to the ground, allowing her to place him in handcuffs.
Deputy Elliott sustained scrapes and bruising but, according to the KCSO, was not seriously injured.
“It was a pretty intense moment,” said Isaiha Sansaver. “But as soon as I saw him start to put her in danger, I didn’t think twice. It was just a reaction.”
Asked what was going through his head at the time, Tavares said he was thinking of “the potential of how badly the situation could have ended.” He considered that “if Deputy Elliot wasn’t assisted, the drunken man would not be alive today. Deputy Elliot could have easily drawn her gun in a fight or flight situation or quite possibly may have been choked until she was unconscious.”
Meghan Andrews, the mother of Tyrann Powell, is still in disbelief. “The thought that they were there at the time they were was impeccable. If Deputy Elliot hadn’t shown up when she did, the boys could have been hurt and vice versa. That was a moment of perfect timing.”
The driver was arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Assault in the Second Degree (Assault 2). He had additional warrants for his arrest, including DUI, driving with a suspended license, and failure to install an ignition interlock.
“We have had 116 DUIs [in Auburn] so far this year (14.5 average per month)*. Last year we averaged 15 per month as well,” said Auburn Police Chief Daniel O’Neil. A vast majority of the DUI arrests made by the Auburn Police Department are non-violent, according to O’Neil.
Medal of Heroism
Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht, along with O’Neil, presented the five teenagers with the Sheriff’s “Medal of Heroism” Award on July 3. The medal was awarded for the bravery and courage that was displayed by the five young men.
The Medal of Heroism was created to honor community members who do extraordinary things. The medal is the KCSO’s highest standing civilian award. Per the KCSO, the nominee must have “acted in the face of extreme risk, without regard for his/her own well-being and with full knowledge of the risk to his/her own personal safety.” On top of that, “the act must have been clearly above and beyond the call of duty.”
“These five young men did just that to help save our deputy’s life, and for that, we are truly grateful.” Said Johanknecht.
This is the second time Johanknecht has awarded the Medal of Heroism Award.
The first Medal of Heroism award was granted to Metro bus driver Eric Stark on March 27, 2019. Stark was shot in the chest by a gunman while driving a city bus full of patrons. He successfully put the bus in reverse and got the passengers out of harm’s way, despite his serious injuries.
“It was an honor to meet the five young gentlemen who came to the aid of the King County Deputy,” said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. “I was so impressed by their actions as well as their humbleness. They didn’t see themselves as heroes, but as good young men doing the right thing – as they had been taught to do by their families. I am proud of them and expect many great things for their futures.”
The five young men’s actions have impressed local law enforcement officers as well, causing curiosity regarding a potential future with the police force. When asked if they had any aspirations of entering a law enforcement career, the military appeared more likely.
“I have applied for joining the Navy in the near future,” stated Tavares. Isaiha agreed, saying, “honestly, I could see a military career.”
Although Swilley and Powell have different career aspirations, Powell explained that he has a “newfound respect for law enforcement officers.”
The outpouring of support the five teens have received from the community shows that good things can and do happen, even during a pandemic. Standing beside these young heroes are incredible parents who share a common bond.
“I want people to know that these boys would have done this in any and all circumstances,” said Jaime and Adam Cheatham, parents of Isaiha and Dominic Sansaver. “They are good kids with amazing hearts. As their parents, we are more proud and make a big deal about it. But they go on each day normally. It didn’t faze them to go help somebody in need.”
The incident took place during a time of nationwide civil unrest. The police-involved death of George Floyd in May sparked worldwide outrage. For months thousands have flooded the streets to protest for police reform and racial equality.
“The outpouring of recognition they have received and the love that has been shown to all of us is just, well- it brings tears to my eyes,” shared Michelle Goode, mother of Swilley. “I know Darrell has received some unwelcome comments for doing what he did, so it just makes me more proud that he ‘took the high road.’ [That] he and his friends were there to help and did help this officer.”
KCSO Public Information Officer Sergeant Ryan Abbott said that although Deputy Elliot doesn’t wish to comment, “she is very thankful for what the teens did.”
“In this day and time with what’s going on in the world, you’re lucky if you can find someone to help you when you’re broke down,” Goode continued. “People don’t want to get involved; they don’t want to be bothered. We don’t trust people anymore like we used to, and it’s sad. I’m so glad it all turned out the way it did and that no one was hurt.”
*Numbers as of August 2020