Santee man receives Carnegie Medal for heroic beach rescue in 2020

There were only a handful of people on the beach at La Jolla Shores with Neil Garrett on May 14, 2020. But the man from Santee credits an unseen presence that was with him that day for the selfless act that earned him a 2021 Carnegie Medal for Extraordinary Heroism.

Garrett, 41, walked and swam in fierce waves to rescue an unconscious 10-year-old girl who had been pulled by an incoming tide more than 350 feet offshore. As he drove the girl back to shore, a passing surfer, Jack Barone, offered his board as a platform to paddle the girl to shore, where Barone gave her cardiopulmonary resuscitation until the arrival of medical help.

Garrett, an aviation electrician, said he was grateful he was there that day to spot the girl in the water and grateful that Barone had come at the perfect time to help. But he credits a Higher Power for saving the girl’s life that day.

“I want to thank God and Jack Barone because without them being in the water with me that day it would have been for naught,” said Garrett. “I might have acted courageously that day, but a lot of people would have done the same under the circumstances. But 100 percent God was there that day.

Neil Garrett and his children, speaking to lifeguards in San Diego after rescuing a young girl from waves at La Jolla Shores on May 14, 2020.

(Courtesy of Neil Garrett)

Garrett is one of 70 people honored this year by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in Pittsburgh. The fund was established by industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1904 to honor brave citizens like the two men who valiantly attempted to rescue the victims of the massive Harwick coal mine explosion that killed 181 people near Pittsburgh this year.

The commission awards medals and grants to American and Canadian civilians who have risked extreme danger by saving or attempting to save the lives of others. Many laureates are honored posthumously because they passed away during their rescue efforts.

Garrett said he heard through the vineyard that the girl – whose name was never released – had fully recovered from her near-drowning.

“I am very happy to know that the girl is alive and normal. I was so panicked that she might not have the same life anymore, ”he said. “From what I’ve heard, she recently blew out the candles on her 12th birthday cake. It seems very special to me. It shows that life is precious.

On the day of the rescue, Garrett said he had already left home for work when he saw what a great day it was going to be and thought he would rather spend it with his family, which includes his wife. , Amber Garrett, and their three sons, now aged 11, 9 and 6.

Neil Garrett of Santee received the Carnegie Medal for saving a young girl in La Jolla in 2020.

Neil Garrett of Santee received the Carnegie Medal for saving a young girl in La Jolla in 2020.

(Courtesy of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission)

So, with permission from his boss, Garrett drove his family to La Jolla Shores, which was nearly deserted due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. The Garrett family were on the beach near Scripps Pier when they saw the daughter’s father come back from a surf session and ask his wife, who was sitting on the beach, where their daughter was.

The frenzied couple began to search along the beach and eventually headed in opposite directions to search for her. Meanwhile, Garrett spotted what first looked like the head of a seal swaying in the waves beyond the surf spot. Thinking it might be the missing girl’s dark hair, he gave his wife her cell phone, wallet and keys and began to wade and then swim in the treacherous waves to the spot.

When he reached the girl, Garrett said she was unconscious, her face was blue and her lips were purple. He feared it was too late to save his life, but he pulled his arm over his shoulder and began to swim sideways with one arm toward the shore. But strong waves continued to hit it and pull them further out to sea.

At one point Garrett became so exhausted that he thought maybe he should let his body go to save himself and he cried and begged for help. That’s when Barone, a resident of Bird Rock, curled up from behind on an incoming wave and agreed to help bring the girl ashore.

Garrett said the whole experience lasted for hours, although it only lasted 10 to 12 minutes in the water. In the weeks that followed, he was troubled by nightmares of losing his hold on the girl in the water, but found solace upon learning that she had survived.

Several weeks later, Garrett received a letter in the mail from the Carnegie Fund saying that an anonymous person had nominated him for the Carnegie Hero Medal. He filled out the request form describing the rescue, mailed it and then forgot about it. It was only recently that he learned he had been chosen for a 2021 award.

Abby Brady of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission said the organization typically awards 70 to 80 medals each year, with a new batch given out every three months. To date, 10,273 Carnegie medals have been awarded. Each laureate, or their survivors, also receives a financial grant, scholarship assistance, death benefit, or other form of financial assistance. Over the years, over $ 40 million has been distributed. Garrett will receive a grant of $ 5,500.

Among the 16 other winners this quarter, five Americans died in their rescue attempts. Four were men who drowned in separate incidents as they tried to rescue children and others in rough waters. And a 64-year-old Louisiana home health aide has died trying to get her client to safety in a burning house.

To nominate someone for a Carnegie Medal and to learn more about the recipients, visit

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