According to Me: “What anybody else should have done…”

I shivered as a biting cold wind cut through the space that had just seven days earlier been filled with smoke and flame and sweat and tears. Lane Hawkins stood there, seemingly unfazed by the wind or the cold or the raindrops beginning to fall.

Even a week after the fact, he didn’t see what the fuss was all about. He doesn’t see himself as a hero despite what so many have persisted in telling him since the early morning hours that provided the backdrop of tragedy.

“I don’t see it as everybody else sees it. Everybody is making it out to be a big act of heroism and everything. I just feel like I did the right thing, what anybody else should have done had they been here,” he said as we stared solemnly at the flowers and stuffed animals adorning the ground below the burned out window of the Crossgates Apartments residence where only a week prior a young family was shattered.

Lane still isn’t sure why he was stopped at the Pure Station on Highway 43 that night.

“I was just sitting here. I didn’t have nothing better to be doing,” he offered.

He had just left a buddy’s house and didn’t quite feel like going home. So he pulled in, parked under the station’s sign and began fiddling with his phone. Shortly thereafter, he heard screams.

“Really being nosy. I had no intentions. I was really being nosy,” he said of what drew him to the scene. As Hawkins pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex, he quickly learned there was a fire and there were people trapped inside. First responders would come later, but Hawkins was the first on the scene.

Without hesitation, he ran up the steps and into the apartment. The smoke already thick, he made his way to the hallway where he found a little boy unconscious on the floor.

“Smoke. That’s all you could see. There was no power. The fire, I guess, had burned all the electricity up. There was one bedroom light on. It kind of lit up some of the smoke,” Lane described the scene as he found it that night. “The little kid was in the hallway. I could barely make him out.”

Hawkins scooped him up, carried him out and went back inside to try to help even more. By that time, the fire was too hot, the smoke too thick.

“Mainly just not being able to get the other guy out.” The words wrestled their way out and just hung in the misty air.

Where so many proved ready to celebrate what Lane did and laude the selfless act that saved a little boy’s life, Hawkins, himself, was haunted. Haunted by what he could not do.

For years, I watched the former Demopolis High defensive lineman tussle with the best Class 5A football had to offer. He was always formidable and carried with him on and off the field a country boy bravado scarcely seen outside of a bar fight.

But none of that was there on this day. It was as if that part of himself were draped over a hanger in the back of the closet to be picked back up on a sunnier day.

On this day, he was clothed in humility and an almost despondent disposition.

He began to reason out loud the thoughts that had clearly plagued him the previous seven days. “I’m pretty stout,” he started. And he explained how he has encountered next to nothing his 19-year-old stature could not tackle. It is because of that fact that Lane Hawkins has continued to wonder, and may always wonder, if he could have done more to try and save 28-year-old Jeremie Sellers, who died in the hospital from injuries sustained in the fire.

“There had to be a reason,” Lane, who studies engineering technology at UWA, concluded. He offered that whatever kept him from pulling anyone else out of that fire had to be beyond him, had to have been for a purpose he was not supposed to understand.

And, suddenly, I began to find great comfort in the turmoil Lane was describing. I found it terribly comforting that there is not only someone in the world who is willing to run into a fire to pull a complete stranger out, but that there is someone in the world who is willing to burden himself because it was physically impossible to have done more.

“I still haven’t put my finger on it yet. It’s just different,” he pondered. “I have a son of my own, so I would expect anybody to do the same thing if my son was trapped somewhere and I couldn’t get to him.”

Lane Hawkins does not consider what he did that night to be heroic. The truth, however, is that it is the very definition.

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He has covered news and sports in Demopolis since 2008. His column, According to Me, appears weekly on