A Cowichan Valley man received a rare honour for heroism in 2019.
John Thomas Prokop, the former owner of James Street Billiards in Duncan, received a prestigious Carnegie Medal from North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring in April for his heroic actions during an incident in the summer of 2016.
The Carnegie Medal is given throughout the U.S. and Canada to those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.
Prokop was one of just two Canadians to receive the honour in 2019, as well as one of only 1,000 Canadians who have received the medal since it was first introduced in 1904.
A total of 10,062 Carnegie Medals have been awarded since the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s inception 115 years ago.
On July 8, 2016, Prokop helped to rescue an RCMP officer, Const. Matt Baines, from an assault in Duncan.
During the incident, which occurred on a street in downtown Duncan, Baines struggled to detain a man who violently resisted arrest and was reaching for the officer’s duty belt which held a holstered handgun.
Eventually the struggle continued on a church’s front porch, where the assailant put Baines in a headlock.
The nearly exhausted officer later stated that he had difficulty breathing during the incident.
Prokop ran to the scene and grasped the assailant, allowing Baines to escape the headlock.
All three fell to the church steps, and the officer held the assailant in a headlock while Prokop pinned the assailant’s legs until backup officers arrived.
Baines recovered from soreness to his throat and neck, while Prokop scraped his arm and face but did not require medical attention.
“I knew someone had to help him,” Prokop said after receiving the medal from Siebring, on behalf of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, at a council meeting in April.
“I didn’t know what I was getting involved with, but I jumped in and did what I could. This is a once in a lifetime achievement and I’m proud to receive it. My son T.J. and my father Morris are here today and I’d like to say that this is who we are; it runs through our bloodline.”
Siebring said it was a privilege to present Prokop with his medal.
“I’m honoured and proud to have a hero like John Prokop in the community, and in the room with us right now,” he said at the time.
Prokop said, as well as the medal, he also received a $5,000 U.S. grant from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, and was informed that the commission will pay for his tuition, books and fees if he chooses to go back to school.
“I used the grant money to pay off my credit cards,” he said with a grin.