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Assistant basketball coach honored as a Hero for gaining control of his team's bus after driver has a medical emergency

November 20, 2018 | News & Press Releases

DES MOINES, IA, Nov. 20, 2018 — The University of Dubuque women’s assistant basketball coach will be honored Friday for his quick actions to pull over the team bus after the bus driver had a medical emergency and passed out while driving. Justin Smith of Dubuque pulled the driver out of the seat and was able to stop the bus after hitting the guardrail. Justin will be recognized as Iowa’s 2018 “citizen hero” during halftime of the Hy-Vee Heroes Game this Friday, Nov. 23, when the Iowa Hawkeyes take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Smith will be joined on the field by Brian Thurston of Omaha, who will be recognized as Nebraska’s 2018 “citizen hero.”

“All Hy-Vee Heroes Game honorees exemplify what it means to be a hero,” said Leslie Schaffer, Regional Executive for the American Red Cross Iowa Region. “Their life-saving actions define why the American Red Cross, Hy-Vee, the University of Iowa and the University of Nebraska partner together each year to showcase extraordinary citizens in both states.”

Smith and Thurston and members of their families will be guests of the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Friday’s game and will participate in a variety of special pregame activities. During halftime of the Hy-Vee Heroes Game, university and Hy-Vee representatives along with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts will make a special on-field presentation to the citizen heroes. Their names will also be inscribed on the Hy-Vee Heroes Game trophy.
Earlier this year, individuals could nominate residents of Iowa and Nebraska who performed extraordinary acts of heroism and service in their communities for the “citizen hero” award. American Red Cross Board members then selected the winners.

Justin Smith – On Dec. 31, 2017, the University of Dubuque women’s basketball team had played a basketball tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, and was returning to Dubuque on the team bus. Assistant Coach Justin Smith was sitting in the front row of the bus when he heard the bus roll over the rumble strips on the interstate and looked up and saw the bus driver was pale and his head was leaning on the window. Smith jumped up to see that the driver had passed out. Smith got control of the charter bus as it crashed into the guard rail. Smith stopped the bus on the right side of the interstate and then checked on the condition of the driver and team. University of Dubuque basketball player Josie Thomas recalls that day and said, “I’m just really thankful for Coach Smith’s fast actions to help get the bus pulled over and to save our lives.”

Brian Thurston – At 9:45 p.m. on March 19, 2018, Brian Thurston and two of his co-workers heard a loud vehicle collision and immediately acted. A car had struck a minivan and the minivan ended upside down on its roof. Thurston was the first to the scene and found three people inside the minivan, unable to get out. Using his pocketknife, he cut the seatbelts and dragged the occupants out of the car. Two of them were unhurt, but the third had a broken leg. “I was afraid he would die if I didn’t stop the bleeding,” Thurston said. Thurston removed his shirt and tied it around the person’s leg and tightened it until the bleeding stopped. Thurston’s quick actions stabilized the individual’s situation until paramedics arrived.
Be a Local Hero

Every 8 minutes, the Red Cross provides hope and comfort to people affected by community disasters. Financial contributions to the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund allow volunteers to help disaster victims, anywhere, anytime. Donations are used to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters – big and small.

The American Red Cross also invites the public to be heroes in their communities and sign up to volunteer and be a part of their life-saving work. The American Red Cross is looking for diverse volunteers of all ages and skill levels. People can go to to learn more about volunteer opportunities and how to submit a volunteer application.

Contact Information:

Iowa Hero (Justin Smith)
Caslon Hatch   
Regional Communications Officer - Iowa
Cell: (515) 664-6326

Nebraska Hero (Brian Thurston)
Josh Murray
Regional Communications Officer - Nebraska
Phone: (402) 343-7762

Hy-Vee, Inc.
Tina Potthoff
Vice President, Communications
Cell: (515) 975-9211
About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

About Hy-Vee, Inc.:
Hy-Vee, Inc. is an employee-owned corporation operating more than 245 retail stores across eight Midwestern states with sales of $10 billion annually. The supermarket chain is synonymous with quality, variety, convenience, healthy lifestyles, culinary expertise and superior customer service. Hy-Vee ranks in the Top 10 Most Trusted Brands and has been named one of America’s Top 5 favorite grocery stores. The company’s more than 80,000 employees provide “A Helpful Smile in Every Aisle” to customers every day. For additional information, visit