LEWISTON — A baby-sitter who rescued children and dog from burning Belgrade home and Iraq war veteran who lost his legs assisting a motorist after an Augusta accident were among those honored Tuesday during an American Red Cross heroes breakfast.

Amanda Garboski, who led the children in her charge to safety, and Jeremy Gilley, whose life changed while he was helping an accident victim, were honored at the Real Heroes Breakfast, hosted by the Lewiston-based United Valley American Red Cross. The event at the Ramada Inn drew a couple hundred people, including the heroes and their families as well as American Red Cross officials and political dignitaries, such as former Gov. John Baldacci.

“You are the real leaders in our state,” Baldacci said. “You’ve made our state shine so very, very brightly.”

Garboski was just 17 in August 2012 when the fire broke out at the rented home of Kevin and Angela Tozir. The Tozirs’ children, ages 10 and 8, were left in Garboski’s care. The teen was just weeks removed from graduating from Messalonskee High School.

Garboski rounded up the children and the family’s Pomeranian-Shih Tzu dog and led them to safely after smoke filled the kitchen and computer room and she saw flames coming from the garage.

Once outside, Garboski called 911 and tried to comfort the children, who watched as the flames began to spread from the attached garage to the entire rear of the house. The home, along with all the family’s belongings, was destroyed.

Belgrade Fire Chief Daniel MacKenzie, who presented the Youth Real Heroes Award to Garboski, said firefighters spend considerable time trying to teach youngsters how to respond in the event of a fire.

“She did everything we try to teach them,” MacKenzie said.

Garboski, who sees the Tozirs occasionally and continues to baby-sit for another family while looking for steady employment, said she continues to feel the fire’s effects.

“I almost didn’t want to come,” she said. “Just thinking about it makes it really hard. It will get better, everyone tells me.”

Garboski, tears streaming down her cheeks, recalled for the crowd how people told her material things can be replaced, but children cannot.

“That stuck with me,” she said. “If I didn’t meet that family, none of this would have happened.”

Gilley’s life also changed in a moment, on the night of Dec. 18, 2011. Just a few days shy of his 27th birthday, Gilley came upon a crash during the early morning hours on Route 3 just west of the Cushnoc Crossing bridge.

He was returning to his Palermo home with his cousin, Julia Morrison. She had just flown into the Portland Jetport from basic training for the Maine Army National Guard.

Gilley was an Army specialist when he was discharged honorably in 2010 after four years of service that included eight months of fighting in Baghdad.

Gilley stopped to help the driver, Christopher Bizier, of Vassalboro, whom he knew from years both spent at Erskine Academy in South China. Bizier’s truck was stopped across Route 3, and as Gilley tried to help Bizier get out of the truck, he heard squealing tires.

Gilley turned in time to see a van, which was being driven by Spencer Aube, 16, of Augusta, plow into Bizier’s truck. Gilley’s legs, which were pinned between the van and Bizier’s truck, were severed, but he continued to assist in his own care, telling Morrison and Aube how to fashion a tourniquet to stop the bleeding until rescue arrived.

Bizier, 32, was convicted of operating under the influence in Kennebec County Superior Court and sentenced in December 2012 to 364 days in jail, with all but 45 days suspended, and one year of probation. Bizier also was fined $700 and his license and registration were suspended for three years.

Aube was not charged in connection with the crash.

Gilley, who walked on prosthetics with crutches to receive his award Tuesday, recalled the blood he was given to save his life after the crash.

“If it weren’t for your generosity and selfless service, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Gilley told the attendees.

Gilley said he continues to feel “a lot of pain” in his legs. He said keeping the prosthetics fitting comfortably is an ongoing process as the stumps of his legs continue to change slightly in shape and size. That process could take a few years, he said.

“I’m upright,” Gilley said, smiling. “That’s the latest.”

His smile gets even bigger when he discusses a daughter born to him and his partner, Rachael Turcotte. Kara Lee Gilley was born Jan. 2 at MaineGeneral Medical Center.

Gilley, who is receiving physical therapy at the nearby VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus, still hopes to return to school on his GI bill and is working with Togus’ vocational rehabilitation staff.

“A little more time and I’ll be ready,” he said of going to school. “The new normal is always changing. I can’t wait until it settles downs and becomes normal.”

Gilley said he continues to face a steep learning curve, both as a new parent and a still relatively recent double amputee.

“It takes time,” he said. “It’s an awful lot to take on all at once. It’s nonstop. All day long, every day. It is what it is. It’s my life now.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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