"You have a second to decide. You don't think about it," Mark Richard Leppo said after being honored for heroism in rescuing a woman from a car swept away by floodwaters last year in Harford County.
"You just say I'm going to do this and you jump in."
Mr. Leppo, a 30-year-old rural letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, not only jumped into Bynum Run near Bel Air, but swam across the raging, rain-swollen creek and managed to open a locked door and lead 65-year-old Walburga Rockocy of Aberdeen to safety.
Yesterday, Mr. Leppo was among 14 people cited by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for heroic actions taken at personal risk. Each Carnegie hero -- or survivors -- receives $2,500, a certificate and a medal.
Mr. Leppo, who also teaches drums in the music department of Harford Community College, was delivering mail Aug. 22, 1990, when he saw Mrs. Rockocy's car run into a small creek crossing overrun by water 2 to 3 feet deep.
The letter carrier said the small car was swept away by the current, and was moving too fast to reach.
"I went back to my car, yelled and told another lady that pulled up in her van to go call for help. I drove along the creek . . . about a quarter of a mile."
He said he parked, climbed down to the bank, and found that "fortunately her car had stopped right in the water close to the bank -- the other bank, naturally."
Leaving his keys, glasses and wallet in his car, Mr. Leppo dove in, battled a current that carried him 60 to 80 feet down the opposite bank and crawled through brush.
"She was in shock, and the car was filling up with water pretty quickly -- it was almost to her neck," he said. Although the door was locked, the window was open a few inches, enabling Mr. Leppo to reach the lock and open the door.
"I went back trying to get her purse. I couldn't find it, but I did find her shoes," he said. "They were made of cork or wood, or something -- they were floating."