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Driver a hero after saving toddler from oncoming traffic

COVINGTON - Saving lives is Norman Early's business as he's worked as a paramedic for 26 years, but last week he stepped up to become a guardian angel for 2-year-old Aleea Lackey, who wandered into evening traffic on U.S. Highway 278.

According to the Covington Police Department, the child wandered away from KC's 24-Hour Child Care on May 20 and was rescued by Early, who notified police.

"This is the first time I've ever saved a life like this. It's a whole different story when you're going on a call because someone's called for your help as opposed to going down the street and seeing something like this," he said. "I wasn't even thinking, I just did. I wasn't trying to do anything special. I just saw her and thought, 'I've got to get this girl out of the street or she's going to get killed.' Thank God I was where I was when I was."

Early, who works for Magnolia Ambulance Service, said he was headed to Mansfield with a patient after dropping off a prescription at CVS/pharmacy.

"Normally if someone asks me to take them to get a prescription filled, I don't do that. Our job is to take them from one place to another because we have other patients also and that just throws things behind," he explained. "But something just told me to drop that guy's prescription off for him."

Early listened to the "little voice" and the result was that he was stopped at the red light at the intersection of U.S. 278 and Mill Street just as the toddler made her way out into traffic on the other side of the road around dusk.

"I was just looking down the road like I always do, and I saw something in the road and I thought, 'What in the world is that?' And I looked a little closer and said, 'Oh, my God, it's a baby.'"

Early said the little girl was about a foot and a half tall, and when he spotted her she was about halfway across the first lane of the road and headed into the next lane.

"When I first saw her there were no cars coming, but by the time she got across the first lane, I started seeing cars coming up over the crest of the hill," he said.

Things happened fast after that.

"I had already hit the gas to try to get over there ... and I'm trying to hit my (ambulance emergency) lights, but I ended up not turning them on because I wasn't looking at the switches because my eyes were looking between her and the traffic.

"I thought, 'There's no way they are going to see her,' but one lady, driving a van, did see her and she stopped and got out of her van," he said.

For a brief second, Early said he thought the child was safe.

"But just at that point, the guy who was behind the van, cut out from behind her to go around," he said. "I hit the gas even harder, cut my wheels real hard, turned in front of both lanes and stopped.

"I told my partner in the back to hold on because I figured the ambulance was going to get hit, but I figured even with a patient in the back ... it's a real heavy and low-set ambulance, it could take the impact.

"I slammed it into park and jumped out, and I could hear the brakes going," he recalled. "Everybody was trying to stop and I was running, just waiting to hear the impact. I ran toward her, and the poor little thing looked at me with huge eyes, and I just scooped her up in my arms and ran to the side of the road. I was expecting stuff to go flying."

Early said all of this happened quicker than he can tell it now.

"Everybody was safe. Everybody got stopped," he said. "The little girl just wrapped her arms around my neck like she knew what I'd done and gave me this huge hug. The next thing I hear is people clapping and people running up to me and saying, 'Oh, my God, you saved the baby.'"

Early said he didn't deserve to be called a hero because he acted from instinct.

"There wasn't nothing heroic, trust me. It was actually kind of stupid," he admitted. "I just thank God I was there because if there had been a minute's difference in anything I did during the course of the day, one way or the other, that child might be dead."

A resident of Suwanee, Early is a single parent and he and his daughter plan to move to Covington on July 1.