Stranger's kindness means merry Christmas

Holidays turn out happy after man finds child, sick mom

Posted: Tuesday, January 02, 2001

A young Kenai mother of three and her family were thankful she and her youngest son were alive to celebrate Christmas this year, after she was discovered near death by a good Samaritan on Sept. 27.

Tracy Hebb, 33, lost consciousness in her Kulila Street home that afternoon and had a weak pulse when Jack Roller, 55, happened by.

Roller, a foreman with Alaska Communications Systems, did not knock on Hebb's door on any official business. He was looking for the mother of a toddler he found wandering along the Kenai Spur Highway, dressed only in a diaper and T-shirt. The little boy, a 2 1/2-year-old named Tristan, was bare-foot and clutching a kitten in one arm and a bottle in the other.

Roller was working nearby when he noticed the child, gathered him up, and started going door-to-door, looking for the boy's home. When he reached Hebb's door, there was no answer, though another preschool boy, Rhoads, 4, was inside. He could not be talked into opening the door, but Roller looked in the window and saw Hebb slumped on the couch, unresponsive.

The door was unlocked, so Roller let himself in and tried to wake Hebb, but to no avail. At that point, he called 911 and tilted Hebb's head back to clear her airway.

Roller said Tristan was too little to let himself out and speculated the older boy had sent him for help.

"I'm just real glad (Roller) was there," said Scott Warner, Hebb's companion and father of her three sons. "I don't know what I'd do without him."

Warner described Tristan as an active little tyke.

"He's a spit-fire, that one," he said. "If you don't keep an eye on him every second, he'll try to build a rocket ship to the moon."

In a sense, little Tristan helped save his mother's life, because if he hadn't left the house -- whether it was to wander around or find help -- Roller never would have happened upon Hebb's doorstep, and she most likely would have died.

"The (ambulance) crew that was on duty said, 'he absolutely saved that woman's life,'" said then-Kenai Fire Chief Jason Elson in October, when the story became public.

Roller did not tell anyone of the incident for weeks afterward. It shook him bad enough that he had to take time off from work, though he said recently it has not left him with any emotional scars.

He said he has never been back to Hebb's house and has not spoken to her or Warner.

"I haven't really tried to contact them," he said. "I want to respect their privacy. I just helped out, that's all."

Warner, 35, was doubly thankful to Roller, for saving his companion from certain death and for rescuing his youngest son from the dangerous highway.

"I watch the news and see people die every day, but if that happened to me, I'd be devastated," he said. "And when something happens to your kids, your heart just drops."

Hebb was unable to comment for this story.

Warner said it was a special Christmas for himself, Hebb and the three boys.

"The kids got a lot of presents -- too many," Warner laughed.

He said Tristan, a bright boy for his age, received a lot of learning toys, as well as a tricycle, pop-up tent, Lego toys and "a very noisy train." Rhoads, and older brother Christopher, 9, got gifts that included a Nintendo video game.

Warner described his family's situation as better in many ways after the double brush with tragedy, including his own outlook on the preciousness of life.

"I try to be a better person every day," he said.

He said he hasn't spoken to Roller since the incident, but occasionally sees him in the neighborhood and waves. He said if he has the chance, he wants to tell Roller "thank you."

"Everything is fine now, and we're so grateful he was there."

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