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Hero who risked his life to save a deputy deserves the community’s thanks

Peter O’Brien says what he did is “no big deal.” It seems impolite to dispute a man’s assessment of his own actions, but when those actions save the life of a sheriff’s deputy while putting his own safety at high risk, it seems like a legitimately big deal.

What O’Brien did while driving on Grand Island last month was to rush to the aid of a deputy in peril, rescuing him from two attackers and a pit bull. Authorities say that Sammy O. Abdellatif, 22, and Brittany Ashley-Graser, 21, had attacked Deputy Jason Clark, against whom Abdellatif held a grudge. Abdellatif was choking the deputy, according to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, while Ashley-Graser had jumped on his back.

It was into that dangerous confrontation that O’Brien stopped to insert himself, not knowing if the assailants were armed or if Clark’s own weapon was secure. He didn’t know if the pit bull would lunge at him or if the attackers would turn on him, leaving the gasping deputy unable to help.

That’s a big deal. It’s heroic. And it’s a welcome antidote to the stories of attacks on police officers who have been shot or otherwise attacked in a twisted bid for revenge.

It was in part what O’Brien called the “disgusting” fact of those attacks that prompted him to act, he told News reporter Dan Herbeck. O’Brien, who wanted to shun the attention that came from his actions, allowed only 10 minutes of interview time and permitted no pictures.

The picture was already clear, anyway. One person wants O’Brien to be named “citizen of the year.” Another wants to make him the honored guest at a public reception. A police officer wants to give him a $20 gift card. Others, we are sure, would agree that O’Brien’s actions merit at least these rewards. But the hero, himself, will have none of it.

“Nah, I’m no hero,” O’Brien insisted. “Police officers are out there dealing with criminals every day. They’re the heroes.”

It’s a fair point. Officers confront the possibility of risk daily. Sometimes, as with Clark last month, risk becomes reality. The nature of their work is such that injury or even death is possible.

But none of that takes away from the unknown risks that O’Brien ran to save the life of a deputy he didn’t know, and doing it for no other reason than it was the right thing. He has earned the community’s thanks, whether he thinks so or not.

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