In front of elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders, several San Diego residents were recognized Wednesday for their extraordinary courage.
At an awards luncheon hosted by San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, six locals received the “Citizens of Courage” award as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
This included 20-year-old Daniel Wagner, a grocery store clerk who witnessed a horrific car crash and immediately sprang into action, coming to the aid of multiple victims.
In June 2012, just a week shy of his 19th birthday, Wagner was on his way to pick up his little brother from a friend’s house when he made a wrong turn on the freeway. As he pulled onto a dark stretch of roadway on Interstate 805, he saw a van and vehicle collide.
Wagner pulled over and ran out onto the road to help a family of three caught in the wreckage of the overturned van.
“I just knew I had to get out and help,” Wagner told NBC 7 on Wednesday, recounting that day.
Wagner helped pull a mother, father and 13-year-old boy out of the van. But just as the boy got out, another vehicle struck the wreckage, killing the parents. The teenage boy survived.
After that, a motorcycle crashed into the pile-up, and Wagner did his best to render aid to other victims. Wagner said he simply couldn’t drive past the horrific scene that day without doing something to help.
“I didn’t keep going [on the freeway] because of, basically, instinct. I had to get out and help. People needed help,” he said.
Several others with incredible stories of bravery were also honored at the 25th annual Citizens of Courage awards, including a young girl who was stabbed 26 times when she walked in on a man murdering her mother in their San Marcos home in 2012.
Only 8 years old at the time, Azalyea Duran screamed for the man to leave her mother alone. He stabbed the girl 26 times, puncturing her pancreas, kidney and liver. Azalyea survived, but her mother, Antonia Marie Duran, died in the attack.
Ultimately, Azalyea helped prosecutor’s convict her mother’s killer, Vista resident Daniel Hernandez.
Other heroes awarded by DA Dumanis on Wednesday included John and Mary Cates, an elderly couple violently attacked in an alley as they collected cardboard, Sean Simpson, a carjacking victim shot by gang members and left to die in a parking lot, and “Maria,” a human trafficking victim smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 13 and forced into prostitution and slave labor.
Dumanis said the heroes should serve as an example of true courage.
“These individuals displayed extraordinary bravery in the face of serious crime,” she said. “By honoring them today, we’re also shining a light on the thousands of crime victims our office reaches out to every year in San Diego County and the importance of supporting victims’ rights.”