Petaluma's Chris Cox was honored on April 19 by the Red Cross for a single act of bravery inspired by his deceased son, Danny, who had dreamed of becoming a firefighter so he could help other people.
When Cox graduated high school in 1981, he was, by his own admission, a daredevil who enjoyed competition and risk-taking. A journeyman construction worker and carpenter, he worked a number of years building movie sets for George Lucas Films. He was married and divorced, raised a son and two daughters, worked hard, played hard, and never considered his life anything out of the ordinary.
The summer of 2010 changed all that when Danny was paralyzed following a diving accident at Lake Tahoe.
"He was a daredevil, just like his dad," said Cox. "Danny loved athletics and taking risks. He wanted to be a firefighter and he was just a competitive, fun kid."
Danny Cox survived a year after the accident, learning to reuse the muscles in his upper body, which eventually allowed him to drive again in a specially designed car.
Danny was in physical therapy and making progress. But the trauma of his condition also brought on depression, and last August he drove into a tree at a speed of over 60-miles per hour. Police said there were no signs of attempts to slow the car down and ruled the case a probable suicide.
Cox refuses to speculate on his son's death, but says the tragedy created a sense of purpose which now influences his attitude and philosophy about life.
In January, while driving down Highway 116 near Stony Point Road in Cotati, he spotted a car on fire. Without hesitation and despite the intense smoke and heat, Cox rushed to the aide of the female driver, who was unconscious and trapped inside the car. He cut the driver loose from her seat belt, and pulled her out of the car to safety before police and firemen arrived. Police at the scene speculated the woman would have died if not for Cox's actions.
"I felt my son when I was helping that woman," said Cox. "I feel his spirit around me every day."
Cox said the only meaning he could derive from his son's death was that he now has the chance to help people, something Danny had told him was the reason he'd wanted to become a firefighter.
Cox said that while he was grateful for the recognition he earned from the Red Cross, he was more grateful for the chance to help someone in need.
"I never saw myself as a hero," said Cox. "I never wanted that kind of attention. I'm glad I was there to help."
"I just want my son not to be forgotten," he added. "It's horrible to lose a family member. And that's what everyone is in the end. We are all family."
(Contact E.A. Barrera at firstname.lastname@example.org)