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2 who died in rescue honored as heroes

By Roger Roy and Gary Taylor | Sentinel Staff Writers
Posted June 13, 2002

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PHOTOS
Grieving.
Grieving. (JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL)
Jun 13, 2002
Shane Kelly.
Shane Kelly. (ORLANDO SENTINEL)
Jun 13, 2002
Dr. Donald Diebel Jr.
Dr. Donald Diebel Jr. (SHOUN A. HILL ORLANDO SENTINEL)
Jun 10, 2002

This article misidentified a fellow firefighter whose quotation it contained. The quoted firefighter is Ed Ruping.

Firefighter Shane Kelly and Dr. N. Donald Diebel Jr. were strangers, but they died working side by side to rescue a couple trapped in an overturned vehicle.

On Wednesday, in services held just a few miles and an hour apart, family and friends laid both men to rest, remembering each as a hero who died trying to help others.

The two men were killed and four rescuers were injured Saturday when they were struck by a tractor-trailer after they stopped to help a couple trapped in an overturned pickup in the median of Florida's Turnpike near Wildwood.

In a memorial service Wednesday in Oviedo, where Kelly, 26, was a firefighter, he was remembered as a caring man destined to a bright future in the fire service.

In Winter Park, where Diebel, 35, was an obstetrician in a practice with his father, he was remembered as a giving man, a loving father to his three young sons and his own father's best friend.

"Shane was a hero," said Oviedo Fire Chief Wayne Martin. "He was a firefighter's firefighter — somebody we could all look up to."

Firefighters, many of whom began their careers before Kelly was even born, came from across the state for the service at First Baptist Church of Oviedo.

"We grieve the loss of a young man who was what all parents want their sons to be — a man of honor," said the Rev. Tommy Gilmore.

"He didn't help other people because he was a firefighter," Gilmore said. "He helped other people because of who he was. He was a firefighter because it allowed him to do that."

"Kelly was best described by the words devotion and dedication," said fellow firefighter Ed Ruby. "When there was a job to be done, Shane was always the first to volunteer and the last to leave."

Ruby recalled how Kelly loved to play with water and how everyone who worked with him could count on getting squirted at least once a day. As he and other firefighters were polishing Engine 44 on Tuesday in preparation for the funeral, Ruby said he had to ask why they were bothering.

"Shane loved mud," he said. When anyone would point out how dirty his pickup was, he would respond, "It's just right," Ruby said.

At the service, a large photo of Kelly wearing his Fire Department cap with his sunglasses perched on top was at the front of the church. His uniform and equipment were framed nearby.

Kelly's flag-draped coffin was carried to Woodlawn Cemetery in west Orange County on Engine 44. On Mitchell Hammock Road near County Road 426, a large American flag was held high between the raised buckets of aerial trucks from the Seminole County and Orange County fire departments.

Led by 16 law enforcement motorcycles, it took more than 15 minutes for the procession to pass under the flag. Included were more than 60 units from fire departments and ambulance squads around Central Florida, as well as many law enforcement vehicles.

Dad misses son, best friend

At St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Winter Park, a crowd of hundreds of family, friends and patients packed inside to pay their respects to Diebel.

Nearly 100 were left still standing in the church's entrance, where dozens of photos showed Diebel throughout his life, from swimming in the pool as a young boy to playing with his own sons, Conor, 5, Liam, 4, and Nicholas, 2.

There was a photo of Diebel and his wife, Karen, at their wedding, and of him and his father, Dr. N. Donald Diebel Sr., both smiling and wearing their surgical gowns.

Diebel died as he lived, doing all he could to help others, said the Rev. Richard M. Walsh.

"Once more, he was reaching out beyond himself," Walsh said.

Despite Diebel's tragic death, Walsh said, friends and family should take comfort “in his goodness,” and the fact that he was able to help so many people in his life.

They were words echoed by Diebel's father, who said his son was his best friend and someone he looked up to.

"Donny is my hero," Diebel Sr. said.

Injured rescuer remembers

Not everyone who wanted to remember Diebel or Kelly could attend the services Wednesday.

At Orlando Regional Medical Center, Cindy Marshall was stuck in her hospital bed with two broken ankles and a broken arm.

Marshall, like Diebel and Kelly, had stopped to help the newlywed couple from Crystal River whose truck had overturned on the turnpike.

Marshall, 26, an emergency room technician, was returning home to Atlanta with her boyfriend after a week at Orlando's theme parks when they stopped to help — a decision she said was automatic.

"I can't tell you how many times I've stopped to help people," she said. "Somebody was in need of help, and we helped them."

She and Kelly and some of the others got one of the pickup's doors partially open, and Marshall crawled inside to help the injured woman, holding the woman's neck steady to prevent spinal damage.

Diebel had just given her some instructions for helping the woman — she couldn't remember his exact words — and then "next thing I remember, I was rolling down the ditch."

Marshall, who spoke to reporters from her bed, her legs and arm propped up on pillows, expects to undergo more surgery. She didn't know Wednesday when she or her boyfriend will be released from the hospital, or whether she will fully recover from her injuries.

She said she didn't regret stopping, and on Wednesday, she was still thinking of the families of Diebel and Kelly.

"My thoughts and my prayers go out to them," she said, her voice breaking.

Roger Roy can be reached at rroy@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5436. Gary Taylor can be reached at 407-324-7293 or gtaylor@orlandosentinel.com.

Copyright © 2002, Orlando Sentinel

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