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3 Western Pennsylvania heroes honored for life-saving efforts

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Christine Marty (center) tries to calm Romy Connolly after the woman was lifted from the flooding on Washington Boulevard into a rescue boat on August 19, 2011. Chris Langer | Tribune-Review

A trio of Western Pennsylvanians earned the title Carnegie Hero for acting without thought for themselves to help others.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission on Tuesday said two Westmoreland County men and a woman from Butler County are among the 23 people in the United States who will receive Carnegie Medals and cash awards for saving lives during a shooting in Ligonier last summer and the deadly floods in Highland Park in August.

“The people we honor with this award have acted in an extremely altruistic manner,” said Walter Rutkowski, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. “Even though these individuals sensed danger, they acted without thought for themselves to help others. We believe their actions are worthy of recognition.”

Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie started the fund after learning of extraordinary acts of heroism during a 1904 explosion at a coal mine in Springdale Township in which 181 people died.

Christine Marty

Marty, 22, of Buffalo Township was returning from shopping on Aug. 17 when she and her mother turned onto Washington Boulevard near Allegheny River Boulevard in Highland Park and into a life-and-death drama.

Motorists were stranded in bumper-to-bumper traffic as a torrential downpour caused flash flooding, bringing more than 9 feet of water into the valley.

Ahead in traffic, Roumianka “Romy” Connolly of Lower Burrell was alone in her compact car and terrified as it began to float away.

That’s when Marty swam up, helped Connolly out of the vehicle and up onto a floating SUV where another motorist held onto her until a rescue boat arrived.

Connolly, 70, said she cannot forget the fear she experienced that day or the calmness Marty exhibited.

“If it wasn’t for Christine, I wouldn’t be around,” she said. “When I go past there (Washington Boulevard), I can’t forget how much the water raised up. It was incredible.”

This spring, Marty earned a dual degree in accounting and dance from Muhlenburg College in Allentown. She is working as an intern at Dance USA in Washington.

“This is unreal,” Marty said in response to learning that she was named a Carnegie Hero. “I don’t feel I deserve it. It was a surreal day. I’m thankful I was able to act and not think about it.”

Marty and Connolly said they think often about the four people who died in the flood that day — Kimberly Griffith, 45, of Plum and her daughters Brenna, 12, and Mikaela, 8; and Mary Saflin, 72, of Oakmont.

Kirk Haldeman and Michael Ledgard

Longtime golfing buddies Haldeman and Ledgard had just sipped their first beers at Fat Daddy’s Place in Ligonier on July 11 when all hell broke loose.

Stephen P. Fromholz, 41, of San Antonio, who left the bar after getting into an argument with a patron over the volume on the television set, returned with a semiautomatic rifle he retrieved from his truck and fatally shot patron Donald Holler, 65.

“Honestly, in a situation like that, you’re put in it and you just think he had to be stopped somehow,” said Haldeman, 52, an insurance agent from Ligonier. “You don’t think … you just react.”

Haldeman rushed the gunman, and Ledgard helped him take Fromholz to the floor, which knocked the rifle from his grip.

The pair held Fromholz down until police arrived.

“When you think about what could have happened and think what didn’t — you feel really blessed that Kirk was able to react that fast,” said Ledgard, 53, a contractor from Greensburg.

“Kirk was really the one who took the first step. I used him as inspiration and just followed my buddy,” Ledgard said.

Haldeman said he “just reacted; he (Fromholz) just had to be stopped.”

Authorities said Fromholz, who is scheduled to stand trial this summer, had a pair of 30-round clips when he entered the bar. They credit Haldeman and Ledgard with saving the lives of at least eight other patrons and employees.

Staff writer Tony LaRussa contributed to this report. Chuck Biedka and Paul Peirce are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Biedka can be reached at 724-226-4711 or [email protected]. Peirce can be reached at 724-850-2860 or [email protected].

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