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South Washington County citizens honored for heroism after pulling driver from burning vehicle

Three area citizens were recognized for their bravery during a fiery accident in January. From left, Chris Donahoe, Matthew Labine and Roger Gibney were applauded for their heroic efforts to save the driver and a dog. Bulletin photo by Emily Buss

When an allegedly impaired driver rear-ended another vehicle on a chilly January night and burst into flames, three area residents leapt into action, risking their lives to save a 29-year-old man and his dog.

Because of their bravery and quick thinking, all parties in the accident were rescued, an extraordinary feat the city of Cottage Grove recognized last month when the Cottage Grove City Council presented awards to Chris Donahoe, Matthew Labine and Roger Gibney.

"Because of your prompt action and humanitarian regard for the disoriented driver in the face of an extremely dangerous situation, you undoubtedly helped save the man's life," said Craig Woolery, police chief and public safety director. "Your selfless actions and willingness to get involved, even at the risk of personal peril, are to be highly commended."

Shortly before 6 p.m. on January 14, a driver, who police allege was under the influence of drugs, was southbound on Jamaica Avenue when he rear-ended another vehicle. The suspect's car started on fire and within moments, Donahoe, an off-duty Woodbury police officer, Labine and Gibney rushed to help those involved.

The suspect told the Samaritans that a second person was still in the vehicle and fled the scene. Upon further investigation, a second occupant was not found.

Police arrested the man at his home in the 9200 block of Indian Boulevard later that evening. While a blood-alcohol test indicated there was no alcohol in the man's system, he was jailed on charges of leaving the scene of an accident, inattentive driving, and driving after suspension.

Woolery extended his gratitude to the three men and said their efforts are "greatly appreciated by the entire Cottage Grove City Council and public safety staff."

The driver in the crash faces multiple criminal charges. James S. Colbeth Jr., 29, of Cottage Grove, has been charged with two counts of second-degree driving while intoxicated, and fleeing the scene of an accident, all gross misdemeanors. He also is charged with inattentive driving and driving after suspension, both misdemeanors.

According to court records, an analysis of blood taken from Colbeth after the crash showed the presence of methamphetamine and amphetamine.