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Derby trooper’s heroism recognized by Carnegie Foundation

When Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Raul Carrillo left Topeka after picking up his new patrol vehicle in February 2018, he had no idea he would end up a national hero.

Trooper Carrillo is one of 18 Americans and Canadians named 2019 Carnegie heroes for acts of extraordinary heroism. The Carnegie Foundation medal is awarded annually to individuals who risk their lives while trying to save others from perilous, life-threatening situations.

On Feb. 21 of last year, Carrillo witnessed the crash of a semi-truck tanker on the Kansas Turnpike, and pulled the driver, Kenny Cantrall, from the fiery wreckage.

Whether coincidence or divine providence, there were pivotal events leading up to Carrillo’s heroic act.

“I was not supposed to pick up [the cruiser] until the next day, but there was supposed to be inclement weather the following day,” Carrillo recounted. Ironically, he didn’t want to drive to Topeka in inclement weather because “you might not get to your destination if there are accidents up and down the highway you have to work.”

An oversite after Carrillo picked up the vehicle resulted in the crash and rescue being captured on video.

“We have cameras in our patrol vehicles – one facing forward and one facing back,” Carrillo said. “When you get a new patrol car issued you’re supposed to make sure all the lights and the camera are working. I failed to turn off my camera when I left the garage, so it recorded from the time I left [the garage].”

Returning to Wichita, Carrillo stopped at a scenic overlook in the Flint Hills to take a photo of his cruiser to send to his wife who had asked him what it looked like.

“If I hadn’t stopped and spent those few minutes, I would have exited the turnpike after the accident happened, changed radio frequencies and not have been able to help.”

As it turned out, the ever-alert trooper saw the accident starting to happen ahead of him and was almost part of it.

Carrillo was in the southbound inside lane when he noticed the northbound tanker starting to lose control on the inside shoulder.

“He lost control and when he drove onto the shoulder the back trailer axles caught onto that ice,” the trooper explained. “Once that back end of the trailer gave out, he lost complete control, was sliding sideways, and came over the [three-foot] wall about 30 feet in front of my cruiser.”

With just a “split second to react” Carrillo went to the shoulder of the road, escaping a major collision but sustaining damage to his new vehicle.

“I barely missed the axles of the truck that had been knocked off, and as it was coming right next to me it exploded,” he recalled.

“My patrol car had a busted front windshield, the left front tire blew out, and there were scrapes all over the front and side from the debris of the truck.”

Carrillo’s initial reaction was, “I hope the driver is okay, but I’ve seen so many crashes, even less minor ones, where people don’t survive. Witnessing what I did, the explosion, how it flipped, and how it was on fire, I really didn’t think the driver had survived.”

After contacting the dispatcher to request fire, EMS and additional troopers, Carrillo’s instinct was to keep people back from the scene where fuel was gushing from the portholes on top of the trailer.

As he got closer to the overturned semi, Carrillo heard the truck driver inside the cab yelling for help.

“His clothing was on fire, there were flames in the cab, and he was wedged in there. I knew the risk of trying to get in there and help him – an explosion could happen any minute – but once I heard him screaming, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t help,” he said.

The 6'4" trooper was able to “get really close up to him, grab him by his belt, and pull until he came free, while I’m standing in a puddle of diesel fuel.”

Once Carrillo freed Cantrall from the cab and “he [Cantrall] hit the ground with flames still coming off of him, I asked if there was anyone else in there and he said ‘no.’”

Three people who had stopped to help assisted Carrillo to put the injured truck driver in the bed of one of their trucks and backed it up behind another stopped semi-truck for protection from a possible explosion.

Cantrall sustained burns to his back and hands and was in the burn unit at a Wichita hospital for “quite some time.” Carrillo was hospitalized with second and third-degree burns to his hands and then recovered at home for about two weeks.

“When a couple of troopers came by the hospital to check on me, one of them said, ‘I could smell you, you reek, the whole hospital reeks of diesel fuel.’ I looked at my boots and they were just soaked in diesel fuel,” Carrillo recounted, adding that he had to throw them away.

Two months after the rescue, Carrillo was honored with the Governor’s Award for Valor given to KHP employees whose “acts of heroism demonstrate exceptional bravery under circumstances involving risk of severe personal injury or loss of life to either the employee or another person.”

Carrillo said the Carnegie Foundation reached out to him by letter shortly after the incident, but “the first time I didn’t really pay attention to the letter.” When they sent a second letter, he responded by email and the process got under way.

“What they do is assign an investigator to reach out to you then verify your story with anybody who was a witness,” Carrillo said. “They got ahold of Mr. Cantrall, witnesses to the accident, and I think they even contacted the trooper who actually worked the accident.”

Carrillo received a call from the Carnegie Foundation in mid-June – 16 months after the accident – telling him he was an award recipient. In addition to the medal, he received a commemorative book highlighting award recipients’ stories throughout the years.

“There are so many heroes out there, [including] plenty of men and women in law enforcement who save lives every day,” he said humbly. “To receive such a recognition as this is such an honor.”

Drag racing still a thrill for Derby woman

Sharon Wilhite never thought about being a drag racer, but it only took one try more than 30 years ago for her to be hooked.

Wilhite was dating her future husband Tom, a lifelong racer who owns a Derby auto repair business, when he persuaded her to give the sport a try.

“I did it to get him off my back,” she laughed. “I loved helping out when he raced, and he kept asking me if I wanted to ‘take a pass,’’’ she recalled. “I would say I didn’t want to, but finally said I would because there weren’t a lot of people around after the race to see me not knowing what I was doing.”

She insisted Tom sit next to her on the floor in the car and tell her what to do.

“I had my left foot on the brake and my right foot on the gas, and he told me when the light turns green ‘push it to the floor and leave it on the floor.’”

When she passed the timing lights at the end of the quarter-mile run she asked Tom what she should do next. “He said, ‘well Sharon, I’d slow down if I were you because you’re going to run out of road.’ I started pumping the brakes and [the car] was moving around, and I started laughing,” she said. “Then I thought maybe I could do this, and I kind of liked it and wanted to see if I could do better.”

They went back on a Saturday for “test and tuning – no racing, just testing and tuning [cars] then taking another pass,” she said. “We did that in Old Warrior,” the 1958 red Pontiac that Tom had raced since 1972, and “it became my car,” she said. “Tom found a GTO and made it a drag car for himself.”

Wilhite was “39 or 40” when she ran her first race. “We were married when I was 41, and he [Tom] got me racing before I actually said, ‘I do,’” Wilhite recounted.

She has raced Old Warrior “all over the country – Wisconsin, Indianapolis, Arizona, Kentucky, Missouri, Colorado – I’ve won money all over,” she said. “Sometimes we’d make them [races] into vacations – we’d go up and race in one city, park our cars and vacation, then go to the next city for another race.

“One time I won the race, vacationed for a week, then went to the next city and won again,” she said with a note of amazement.

Wilhite has always raced against men because there are not many women drag racers, although she said there seem to be a few more today than when she started.

“Women are finally starting to realize they can do this too, and their husbands and boyfriends agree,” she said.

Wilhite said wrecks in quarter-mile drag racing are very rare.

“There might be a guy who goes too fast and a tire blows up, it can happen,” she said. “I can’t say I have ever experienced anything scary – my car has always run well, and if anything’s wrong, Tom’s a good mechanic and fixes it on the spot.”

Wilhite acknowledges that she has some natural abilities that make for a good drag racer.

“I have a good eye for the lights,” she said. “You have to have a certain mind for it, and good reflexes. I literally have my foot on the brake and the other foot on the gas and [simultaneously] let go of the brake and push the foot feed down,” she explained. “The better you are at starting the race – punching your foot down on the foot feed – the better racer you are.”

Although Wilhite’s race time is somewhere over 10 seconds, she recalled “one of the best quarter-miles I ever had was 9.87 seconds.

“That’s pretty fast for my big, heavy car – I think I was doing 138 mph that day. If the wind is behind me, it’s cool and maybe just a little damp, my car will always go faster – most any car will.”

Wilhite, who works part-time as an EEG (electroencephalogram) technician, had considered curtailing her racing career after experiencing a heat-related incident at Indianapolis in June. “I wasn’t driving, but it scared me,” she said.

But recently she was at the track helping another woman try her hand at drag racing and decided to “see if I could cut a decent ride, if the car would still run. She [Old Warrior] did and I did,” she said enthusiastically.

“I was surprised at how many of the guys at the track said, ‘don’t give up Sharon.’

I didn’t think anyone paid attention, and I thought ‘wow, they know my name,’ and I’m excited about racing again.”

Derby shows up well with 2019 Parade of Homes entries

In any growing community, the buying and selling of real estate tends to be of significant importance. Derby is no exception.

The annual Fall Parade of Homes, put on by the Wichita Area Homebuilders Association, gives home buyers the chance to see the latest and greatest in residential housing. As usual Derby has multiple entries this year with many new, unique features.

One type of housing that has increased in recent years is patio homes or convenience and low-maintenance properties. The options in Derby are opening up for those thinking of downsizing from their bigger family homes and looking for easy access and more convenience. Singles or career-driven individuals who don’t have time to deal with maintenance may prefer this option as well.

Starter homes for young professionals are also on the list this year, not to mention some larger home options for those who want to live in the country and watch the sunset every night.

There are over 130 entries in the 2019 Fall Parade of Homes across the entire metro area. You’ll find plenty of options to get some great ideas on what you want to have in your next new home.