Nathaniel Chase, 22, of Coarsegold, who recently received his nursing degree from Franciscan University in Stubenville, Ohio, was named Madera County's Hero of the Year Sept. 18 during the 23rd annual Citizens Awards Ceremony at Clovis Veterans Memorial Hall.
Chase came to the aid of a 28-year-old tourist from Japan who was being carjacked in an Oakhurst parking lot at about 11:25 p.m. July 5. After getting off work at the Pizza Factory, Chase ran to the man's aid without hesitation, despite the fact that two Oakhurst 18-year-old females were both armed -- one with a gun, the other with a screwdriver. The 28-year-old male tourist was alone at the time and sleeping in his car when he was approached by two girls.
Madera County Sheriff deputies who were called to the scene said Chase didn't have to do what he did but he intervened, choosing to risk his own life to save another.
Following the incident, Chase said that when he was walking to his car his first thought was two drunk people were arguing with each other in the parking lot.
"But as I got closer, I saw one of the girls pointing a gun at the car saying 'get out of the car or I'll shoot you,"' Chase said.
Chase said although he was scared when he saw the gun, he immediately knew he had to help.
"After I saw the gun I was trying to figure out how to help the guy without being too reckless," Chase said.
A 2007 graduate of Yosemite High School, Chase said he told the two girls he called the cops figuring that would scare them off, but they continued to try to get the man out of his car.
At one point during the altercation, Chase said one of the women attempted to shoot the gun into the ground, but the gun did not fire.
"That's when I realized the gun was not loaded," Chase said.
Chase was able to take a screwdriver away from one of the women and the gun from the other. The confrontation lasted about 10 minutes until deputies arrived.
While introducing Chase, Lt. Dave Paris of the California Highway Patrol, said the fact Nathaniel was a wrestler at Yosemite High School probably helped.
"When deputies arrived I had the gun in my hand and the girls tried to tell the deputy I was attacking them," Chase said. "My co-workers told the deputy I was trying to help the man and the deputy immediately realized what was going on ... It was at that point that the two girls took off running."
The girls ran behind the MET Cinema towards Raley's when they were captured without further incident by Deputy Richard Gonzales.
The unloaded gun used in the carjacking attempt was later located near a dumpster. Deputies also recovered a screwdriver believed to have been brandished during the attack.
Chase felt his emergency room training helped keep him as calm during the ordeal.
After the attack Chase spent an hour with the man to calm him down.
"He told me he thought he was going to die," Chase said.
Chase was nominated for his award by Madera County Sheriff John Anderson and was impressed that the sheriff picked him up at his home and drove him to the awards ceremony. Chase's parents, Bob and Rachel Kass, his older brother Jon, his girlfriend Rachel Kass and his best friend since kindergarden at Coarsegold Elementary School, Josh Culver, attended the ceremony.
Chase said it was fun to ride to the ceremony with Anderson and talk about law enforcement.
"I did one act, but law enforcement is out their helping people every day," Chase said.
Anderson had some career advice for Chase.
"If Nathaniel chooses not to pursue a career in medicine, I would urge him to consider law enforcement," Anderson said.
An additional 36 citizens were recognized at the ceremony including volunteer firefighter Chuck Hoover of Madera Ranchos. A 44 year volunteer firefighter for Station 19 in Madera Ranchos and 30 year photographer for Channel 30 news, Hoover was recognized by the Fresno Police Department for assisting in getting a woman out of a burning mobile home in February.
Some at the citizens were recognized for their community volunteerism and others for selfless acts of courage and heroism.
"There were a lot of people at the ceremony who did amazing things to help people ... I was honored to be in the company of all those people," Chase said.
According to Erica Stuart, Madera County Sheriff's Office public information officer, Chase was among those singled out for being an ordinary citizen who found the inner strength to do the extraordinary ... risk his own life for the sake of another.
Chase's father said he has always been proud of his son, but his act of heroism made him even more proud.
"What he did was just Nathaniel being Nathaniel," Bob said.
His mother Maureen said although her son has not done anything as dramatic as what he did on July 5, he has always been one to help people.
"If a friend's car broke down it was Nathaniel who would go help them," she said. "He helps at Lady of the Sierra Catholic Church and always helped friends at school. We are very proud of him. We are glad there are people like Nathaniel watching out to help keep people safe."
The two women arrested for the attempted carjacking and robbery, Channa Hammond and Jessica Tancredi, remain in the Madera County jail with bail set at $250,000 each. Hammond was charged with the special allegation of using a deadly weapon (screwdriver) during the commission of the attempted carjacking and robbery and Tancredi was also charged with the special allegation of personally using a firearm in the commission of the attempted carjacking and robbery.
Both were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer. All the charges are felonies, except the resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer, which is a misdemeanor.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for both suspects on Oct. 18.