Flooding hero nominated as an Oklahoma Hero

Thursday, July 31st 2008, 10:53 am
By: News 9

"We had a lot of divine intervention that day"

We're highlighting our 2007 Oklahoma Hero nominees, and NEWS 9's Doug Warner reports today's Oklahoma Hero was seen in action across the nation.

 "Probably the worst flood I've seen since I lived there in 23-years," said Lieutenant Bill Reitz of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The flood waters seemed never ending, and so did the heroes. Whether they just brought comfort, or floated up in a boat, there were over 100 lives saved that day. Including two lives many thought couldn't be.

"I can't think the Highway Patrol enough, they got us," said Leroy Krittenbrink, who was rescued from floodwaters near Kingfisher.

Leroy and Bernice Krittenbrink were rescued as an entire nation watched on TV.

"It was just a decision we had to make on the spur of the moment," said Lieutenant Brian Sturgill.

 "We're here. We're all they've got, let's go to work," OHP chopper co-pilot Trooper Joe Howard said.

The Krittenbrinks were driving down Highway 81 north of Kingfisher when a wall of water swept them off the road, and swept their truck another three-quarters of a mile across a field.

"We really didn't think a vehicle could float that far," Lieutenant Reitz said.

On board the first OHP chopper, Lieutenant Bill Reitz and partner Captain Rick Dodson lowered life jackets, and as the second chopper moved in the Krittenbrink's truck finally gave in to the high waters.

"We really felt like we had a slim attempt to rescue one of them," said Lieutenant Sturgill. "Really didn't think Leroy Krittenbrink would be there when we returned."

However, long before that truck began sinking, quietly, Trooper Howard's heart had begun sinking as well.

"Talk about a helpless feeling, wife and kids at the house and nothing you can do for them," Howard said.

You see, that morning, while Trooper Howard was racing to Kingfisher to help, he left behind rising waters in Shawnee, which were quickly surrounding his home, his children and his wife Kellie.

"I was standing there screaming at the TV, save them, do the rescue, make sure everything is alright," Trooper Howard's wife Kellie Howard said. "But at the same time I wish you were here."

What wife wouldn't want to at least call her husband as rain waters reached their family's front door?  But Kellie couldn't, her husband was hanging out a helicopter at the time.

Over Kingfisher, Trooper Howard quickly became the eyes of the operation, since the rescue had to take place on pilot Brian Sturgill's blindside.

"Joe was giving me instructions, left a foot, down a foot, and sometimes he was giving it to me in increments of inches," said Sturgill.

"Without his communication and helping me hold on to the Krittenbrinks, they wouldn't be here today," Kingfisher Fire Chief Randy Poindexter said.

"We had a lot of divine intervention that day," Howard said.

And the intervention of an Oklahoma Hero named Joe Howard.

"I thought, he's it, he's the one," said Kellie Howard.

The Krittenbrinks and the Howard's home were saved that day.  And even though Joe says there were dozens of heroes worthy of the honor, wife Kellie says it's her honor to call Joe her Oklahoma Hero.