Nick Ortalaza couldn’t imagine anyone not doing what he did July 12 when he rescued a 19-month-old from a hot car in Hephzibah.
It’s for that reason Ortalaza didn’t want to be called a hero, even though he was honored like one Friday when he was presented with the Safe Kids Badge of Courage at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia.
“There are just way too many child tragedies,” said Jim Mumford, the administrator of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. “… I get chills thinking about what you did.”
Each year 30-40 children die in hot cars – a death that’s 100 percent preventable, according to Rene Hopkins, the coordinator of Safe Kids Greater Augusta.
“He had the courage to take action and protect a child he didn’t even know,” Hopkins said.
Ortalaza, a 31-year-old father of two boys, said he was amazed to see the child sitting in the locked, hot car at Woodcrest Apartments on Woodcrest Drive after so much media attention has been given to incidents of children being left in hot cars locally and across the state this summer.
“The first minute or two I was in disbelief,” he said.
Ortalaza told police he, his wife and another person attempted to break out the car’s windows before he was able to reach into a cracked window and unlock the vehicle.
“I couldn’t say I thought as a father,” he said. “I just knew I had to do something.”
He described the child as “lifeless” when he was pulled him from the vehicle. Ortalaza and his wife used cool cloths and ice to revive the child before emergency help arrived.
The child’s father, Russell Givens, 45, of Hephzibah, returned to the car after Ortalaza called him by redialing the last number on a cellphone in the vehicle with the child.
The report stated EMTs and firefighters found the child warm and moist, but in good health. Givens, however, became agitated by the situation and would not allow them to take the child’s vital signs.
Givens told police the child had been in the vehicle alone for about three minutes, but Ortalaza said it had been longer.
“I’d like to say he felt bad about it, but as I recall there was no apology or anything,” Ortalaza said.
He took his rant to Facebook and then to a local television station after learning police allowed the father to leave with the child.
Givens was booked into the Richmond County jail Thursday on charges of deprivation of a minor.
Questions to Richmond County Sheriff’s Office public information officers on why police delayed filing charges have not been answered.
When Hopkins reached out to Ortalaza about presenting him with an award, he turned down the offer saying he was “trying to lay low.” He changed his mind when she persuaded him that it could prevent more deaths or encourage others to take action and save a child like he did.
“I couldn’t say no at that point,” he said.