Disabled ex-cop saves life of woman hurt in explosion

Monday, August 5, 2002

ORLAND HILLS, Ill. -- Like any other former police officer, John Askew knew he had to help when he heard an explosion in his apartment complex in this Chicago suburb.

Except Askew isn't exactly like most other ex-police officers. So, when he heard the screams, he pointed his wheelchair in their direction and started to roll. Then, when he stalled in the grass, he pushed himself onto the ground and crawled the last dozen yards to the elderly woman whose left hand had been blown off, apparently by fireworks.

Aziza Abdallah, 80, was in fair condition in an area hospital. Authorities said if the 53-year-old Askew had not quickly used a towel as a tourniquet, she would not have survived.

"If he hadn't done that, she would have bled out and died," said Mike Casey, a supervisor with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The explosion occurred Wednesday afternoon. According to authorities, a downed power line had knocked out power in the complex where Abdallah and Askew live.

ATF Special Agent Thomas Ahern said one theory is that Abdallah was in her darkened apartment and lit the device, thinking it was a candle.

Askew, a retired Calumet Park police officer who lost his right leg to diabetes, heard the explosion and went to help. When he arrived, Abdallah was bleeding profusely. "She was in very bad shape, her entire left hand was blown off above the wrist," he said.

Askew tried to stop the bleeding with a towel. "And I just told her to calm down, the paramedics were coming," he said. "I got her to sit down. ... That's what I've been trained to do."

'Good to be in action'

Askew, who spends a a lot of time sitting outside his apartment, said he was happy to react to the kind of emergency he once faced as a police officer and volunteer firefighter.

"It felt good to be in action again," he said. "I've spent too many years out in the field, and this retirement is hard to get used to."

Askew played down talk about him being a hero. "I did what anyone else would have done, given the circumstances and training that I've received."

But Ahern didn't see it that way. "It was really a heroic move on his part to overcome all the disadvantages he had to face and still come to her aid," he said.

Ahern said Friday that because of Abdallah's condition, investigators had not yet interviewed her. Also, while a preliminary investigation indicated Abdallah was not involved in any foul play, investigators still want to ask how she came to possess such a powerful illegal explosive, he said.

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