Jeff Jardine

Proving his mettle: Honest man returns medal to hero

From the e-mails and elsewhere:

GOOD DEED RETURNED: Four years ago, Steve Montelongo received a Carnegie award for saving the lives of two people trapped when a home in Modesto caught fire.

Montelongo has since moved to Lodi, where he is the minister at Iglesia Nueva Esperanza church.

"There were no more people to save down there, so I moved up here," he joked.

A year ago, his was one of a half-dozen churches burglarized in Lodi.

"They were hitting the churches pretty good at that time," Montelongo said.

The thieves took some guitars. They took a projector used for PowerPoint presentations. And they took his Carnegie medal, presented by the Carnegie Hero Fund, which was created in 1904 to recognize those who perform acts of heroism.

A few weeks ago, Steve Modrall of San Jose visited the flea market in Oakland. Modrall, who works in construction, collects old trade tokens as a hobby.

One of the vendors handed him a bag of brass tokens to sift through. Montelongo's medal was in that bag.

"I knew about the Carnegie medal — what it was," Modrall said. "I asked (the concessionaire) what he wanted for it and he said $10. I didn't think twice about it."

Modrall wondered whether the medal might have been stolen — especially after reading about Montelongo's exploits on Carnegie's Web site.

"Or maybe (Montelongo) passed away and his children didn't want it," Modrall speculated.

Not a chance on the latter. Montelongo's son, Richard, helped his father rescue the people from the burning home that day, and it means as much to him as it does to dad Steve.

Modrall's first guess was right. It had been stolen and turned up at the flea market.

He wanted to return it to Montelongo.

"But I wasn't sure how to go about it," Modrall said.

Here's where the world gets smaller: Modrall plays for an over-35 baseball team in San Jose. His team came to the valley Sunday to play the Modesto Reds. He mentioned the medal to one of the Reds' players. Another weekend warrior, Reds' outfielder Joe Cortez, is a copy editor at The Bee.

Modrall gave the medal to Cortez in hopes that it would, at the very least, wind up in a museum or someplace else in Modesto where Montelongo's heroism would be on display.

Monday, I contacted Montelongo in Lodi. He plans on coming to Modesto to pick up his medal — again.

As for Modrall, he's happy the heavy brass medal will be back with its rightful owner.

"It was neat to have the medal of a guy who saved lives," Modrall said. "I told the guy at the flea market that I've always wanted one of these, but I wanted to earn it — to be the recipient."

Unfortunately for Modrall, they don't give out a Carnegie award for returning someone else's.

DETAILS, DETAILS: An area auto detailer and a car wash are appealing $10,000 fines levied by the state's Department of Industrial Relations because they didn't pay new registration fees to the state on time.

Lisa Farias, one of the owners of Car Pretty on McHenry Avenue, said her business never received anything from the state informing her of changes in the law that requires her to pay a $300 annual registration fee and maintain a $15,000 bond.

"We understand it," she said. "Whatever we need to do, we'll do. But we called a few other businesses and they had not heard of such a law or that there was a time frame."

A representative of the other shop appealing the fine, Vintage Car Wash, declined to comment.

The law took effect in 2006, and the businesses were supposed to be in compliance by April. But they were given an extension until the end of the year, said Dean Fryer, spokesman for the department.

A deputy from the department's labor standards enforcement division issued the citations in March.

Norm Porges, president of Prime Shine Express in Modesto, said the law stemmed from some Southern California car washes that violated labor laws in the way they used their employees.

The new registration fees go into a fund used to protect abused employees.

"The law is ludicrous," Porges said. "Instead of going after the offenders, they've set up a fund to fund the offenders."

A PENNY SAVED: If the city of Modesto wants to get Dennett Dam torn out for free, just tell the tweakers that it's made of copper. It would disappear overnight, just like a half-mile of live power cable that vanished recently within the city and copper tubing stolen from heating/air-conditioning units throughout the area.

ERIN GO HYPHY: Last summer, the hyphy craze drew 90 officers to downtown Modesto to quell a major disturbance. Of the 17 people arrested, six were juveniles. None of the adults ultimately went to trial. Community meetings were held to gain an understanding of the hyphy culture and let the public vent.

Fast-forward to the wee hours of Sunday morning, as the bars let out from the St. Patrick's Day celebrations, again drawing about 90 officers downtown. Three people got pinched — as in arrested — including one guy who got so drunk that he tried to grab a police dog. The other two were booked for suspicion of fighting.

So will this trigger a bunch of town hall sessions to give us all a better understanding of green beer, shamrocks and blarney stones?

Will they ban "Riverdance"?

Jeff Jardine's column appearsSundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at or 578-2383.