People magazine is honoring two Fresno County residents

December 14, 2012 12:56:54 AM PST
A father and son from the Central Valley are being recognized for their heroic actions this past January. The duo were named winners of People magazine's 2012 "Heroes Among Us Awards" for saving two kids from a burning van.

While the royals grace the cover of the latest issue of People magazine, heroes from around the country are featured inside. Among them, a father and son from right here in the Central Valley.

"We didn't stop to render assistance to be heroes, we stopped because it was the right thing to do," said J.D. Bennett, 52, of Sanger. Bennett and his 32-year-old son, James Bennett, were driving home on a January night when they came across a burning van. "That's when we heard the babies crying in the back of the van," said Bennett.

2-year-old Paul Messiah and 10-month old Aleena were both pinned in the back seat. James was able to free Aleena without much trouble but the little boy was trapped. "I remember I had a pocket knife with me so I started cutting belts and I cut through the car seat belts and the baby seat belts and was able to free him," said Bennett. "And probably within 3 to 4 seconds after we got the babies free and away from the van, it blew into flames."

The kids were with their parents driving through the intersection of Del Rey and North in Fresno County when their car collided with another vehicle. The parents did not survive the crash. A memorial still marks the spot where those lives were lost.

Days after the accident, Action News was there when the children were reunited with their saviors. Since then, the Bennett's have become part of the family.

"For me, they're like angels," said grandmother of the children, Anita Lopez. Lopez takes care of the kids now but asked the Bennett's to baptize them. "I'm proud of the godparents, that they were able to baptize the kids and are still part of their lives," said Lopez.

J.D. and James Bennett regularly visit the children and treat them like their own. "It's a good feeling for me and I'll do what I can do to help their lives," said J.D.

And even though they're heartbroken Aleena and Paul's parents aren't here to raise them, they say they'll be a part of all the holidays and birthdays to come to make sure their godchildren are cared for.


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