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Jerry Davich: Local hero: ‘Just something I needed to do’

East Chicago Central High School senior KeBrown (right) is interviewed by NBC 5 Chicago reporter Lauren Jiggetts front his home

East Chicago Central High School senior Keon Brown (right) is interviewed by NBC 5 Chicago reporter Lauren Jiggetts in front of his home on Indianapolis Blvd. in East Chicago, Ind., Thursday, April 10, 2014. The house was struck four days prior by a car whos driver was having a seizure. Brown helped rescue the driver and her five-year-old son. | Guy Rhodes~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 5, 2014 6:09AM



Keon K. Brown still gets called “hero,” but he knows better.

The 18-year-old East Chicago Central High School graduate acted intuitively two months ago while relaxing at home with his younger siblings on a lazy Sunday.

A woman driver suffered an epileptic seizure while driving down his street, the 4200 block of Indianapolis Boulevard, and, with her 5-year-old child in the car, took a sharp turn and crashed into Brown’s home.

Brown reacted like a veteran firefighter more than a high school senior.

He feared Dialma Diaz’s car would burst into flames while hearing the screams of her son in the back seat. First, he made sure his young siblings were out of harm’s way. Then he rushed to the woman’s car, which was lodged in a corner of the house.

Diaz wasn’t breathing. She had swallowed her tongue and was shaking violently from underneath the deployed airbag.

Brown removed Diaz’s tongue from her airway, instinctively applying what he had learned from an EMT training class he took at school. She responded and started breathing again. Then he pulled Diaz and the boy from the car.

“It all lasted less than five minutes,” Brown told me Tuesday, a day after his last day of high school, where he was senior class president. “It was just something I needed to do.”

The day of the crash, April 6, Brown’s pregnant mother was in Indianapolis after experiencing complications with her expected twins. They were born the next day, while Brown was being praised as a “local hero” by friends, family, city officials and even strangers.

He received a recognition plaque from Police Chief Mark Becker to honor his “heroic actions.” He also was interviewed by local media and NBC-TV news from Chicago. He soon became a media darling and rightfully so.

Last week, he appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in Los Angeles, where he recounted his heroic tale to millions of viewers. Sitting in the audience until his name was called, Brown wasn’t nervous. He was excited.

The popular daytime talk show paid for two round-trip airline tickets and for all accommodations while there, including a full day of sightseeing the day before the show. Brown took his mother. He didn’t think twice. It was instinctive.

“She’s my inspiration. I don’t know what I’d be in life without her,” he said.

He isn’t convinced that he would have acted so “heroically” if not for his mother’s influence from day one of his life.

“She taught me how to help other people, like she has always helped me,” said Brown, who has an older brother and four younger siblings. “No matter how many books I read or classes I took, she taught me how to react that day.”

DeGeneres learned that Brown would be attending college soon, at Indiana University in Bloomington. She surprised him with $10,000 in spending money, compliments of Shutterfly, the online photo website.

“You have to furnish your dorm so we would like to give you $10,000 so you could by some stuff,” DeGeneres told him. “It’s because you’re a good guy.”

Being a “good guy” as a teenager is greatly underrated, I say.

Brown was blown away by the gift.

“I was already amazed by just flying out there and being on her show,” he said.

On Sunday, Brown will officially graduate from high school with all the pomp he deserves. A week later, he will move to Bloomington to begin his college career, studying criminal justice.

“I want to help people,” he said. “I want to help people on a federal level.”

The days after the crash, I heard from a few East Chicago residents about their teenage hero. But I didn’t get around to writing about his heroism until now. I wanted to see how the experienced changed him. Or not.

One moment, he’s just another high school kid, albeit a top-notch one. Less than five minutes later, boom, he’s a local sensation and a national conversation, if only briefly.

“I’m the same person, just a different title, I guess,” Brown said, adding that he still has the same goals and dreams in life.

“I don’t mind if people call me ‘hero,’ but I just want to keep doing what I was doing before that day,” he said.

After graduating from college, he plans on returning to East Chicago to help his family, his community and his region. Why? Brown’s reply again echoed his life’s matter-of-fact mantra.

“It’s just something I need to do.”

Connect with Jerry via email at jdavich@post-trib.com, voice mail at 713-7237 or Facebook, Twitter and his blog at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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