AIKEN — About two weeks ago 18-year-old William Heggs’ commute to from Aiken to an Adult Education class in Newberry took a heroic turn. His mother drove as they carpooled, and he glanced up from a text message he was sending to see the car in front of them had crashed and was on fire.
“I didn’t think, I just reacted,” he said. “Mom said not to get out of our car but I saw an elderly man walking around the car with his walker and he was trying to get his wife who was yelling for help. I just ran to the car and pulled her out of there.”
By the time he sprinted to the car, fire had spread to the front seat.
“My mom helped me drag her over to the grass (median) once I got her free of the car,” he said.
That support from his mother, Minnie Wilson, helped save a life that day, just as her support helped keep him safe during a rough childhood in the Apple Valley area of Augusta.
He did not meet his father until he was 7. “Mom told me to always do the right thing, but (she was so busy just keeping a roof over our heads),” he said.
Heggs said in high school he made a few poor decisions from hanging with the wrong crowd.
Though he starred in track and played football at Aiken High during his freshman, sophomore and junior years, his senior year he was injured and some poor decisions led to drug charges and getting kicked out of school.
He spent time in drug rehab but has since opened a new chapter in his life.
“Rehab changed me. I hang out with my brother now and stay away from people and situations that could bring me down,” he said.
He now lives in Newberry with his brother and said most of his time is spent studying and running.
The morning of the rescue, Will was there by happenstance, since his truck was broken and that forced him to carpool with his mom.
“We basically were in survival mode (at the accident scene). I saw a lot of rough things (growing up in a tough neighborhood). When I was 8 years old, I was in a movie theater when an older boy was stabbed and died. I realized (in the days after the rescue) that what drove me was not wanting to see anyone die that day,” Heggs said.
He said he used every bit of the 10.69 speed he displayed as a sophomore AAA State 100m Champion at Aiken High School to get to Oakman in time.
The woman, Anna Mae Oakman, had a broken leg and it took all his strength to pull her free as flames licked nearby.
Wilson said if her son had not been there, the woman likely would have died.
He and his mother visited Oakman and her husband, James, when Anna was in the hospital. Will said she now is doing well.
The rescue increased the young man’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Now, once he completes his GED, he plans to attend college. So far, he’s earned passing GED scores in English, social studies and math.
Now science and math get the bulk of his studying attention, and not just for the GED exam.
He aspires to be a physical therapist or work in a helping health-related profession and his dreams include either running track, or maybe playing football, at Paine College in Augusta, Ga.
Heggs also recently was honored by the Newberry County Adult Education Center for his heroism.
Adult Education Director David Green, said “That was a brave and heroic thing William did. Students like William make the jobs of me and my staff worthwhile.”
The worth is apparent to Heggs as well. Heggs said that rescue makes life’s struggles that led him to where he is today totally worth it.
“Never give up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you have been through but it is what you plant on doing with your life that helps you overcome.”