'Just instinct': Rescuer honoured for saving Alberta woman's life in domestic dispute

Ken Stead credits human instinct, not heroics, for his actions that police say put his own life at risk but helped save a woman who was being attacked in a domestic dispute.

Stead was at his home in Cold Lake, Alta., late on the evening of June 13, 2018, when he heard someone outside screaming for help.

“This kid was running down the sidewalk — he never had no shoes on his feet — and he was just screaming. He was saying, ‘Call 911, my mom’s boyfriend is gonna kill her,'” recounted Stead, originally from New Harbour, N.L.

Leaving the boy with his wife, Stead immediately took off to the house where the boy pointed him.

It’s almost like I’m reading it and it’s not about me, it’s about somebody else.– Ken Stead

Stead could hear screaming through an open window, and he banged on the door repeatedly, until eventually a man opened it.

“I looked inside and I saw the lady laying on the floor, and I said, ‘Are you OK?’ I asked her four or five times was she OK, with no response, but finally she told me, she said, ‘No, I’m not fine,'” Stead said.

“Me and him end up in a confrontation and without realizing it, he had a knife and I didn’t know it. I thought I was punched in the stomach, so when all the commotion settled down and I went to go get her, I noticed all this blood. And then I noticed I had been stabbed.”

The man involved in the dispute ran upstairs and barricaded himself in a bathroom, while the woman fled the house.

Stead, upon realizing he had been stabbed, went back to his wife, who immediately took him to the hospital. While they were en route to the emergency room, police arrived at the home, where there was a three-hour standoff with the man inside.

‘Our human instincts is just to help’

For Stead, everything after getting in the car is a blur.

“As I walked in I collapsed to the floor. When I did they called code blue. I can remember bits and pieces of people running everywhere. They put me on a gurney. I passed out again.”

Stead needed blood transfusions, emergency X-rays and surgery, and it was a long road to recovery.

But his courage wasn’t unnoticed.

Last week, RCMP gave Stead a certificate of bravery, for showing “extraordinary disregard for his own personal safety.”

When Stead found out he was going to receive such an award, he was taken aback. 

From left, David Zimmerman, with victim services, Anne Stead, Ken Stead and RCMP Staff Sgt. Scott Buchanan at the award ceremony. (Submitted by RCMP)

“To be honest with you, I read the papers, I looked at it, but it’s almost like I’m reading it and it’s not about me, it’s about somebody else. I don’t know, it’s kind of strange,” Stead told CBC’s St. John’s Morning Show.

“There’s a human life in there. Somebody is in danger, somebody needs help and the first thing that come to my mind is, just our human instincts, is just to help. If somebody cries for help or if someone is in danger, it’s human instinct just to reach in.”

Stead was off work for a while through his recovery, but said he’s feeling better now.

But the memory of what he saw that day lingers.

“He was actually strangling her. His plan was that he was gonna kill her — like he was on top of her, he was strangling her. She was just about gone when I got there,” Stead said, adding there are some things he can’t discuss since the matter is still going through the court system.

“She was passed out when I got there. She said she could hear my voice but she couldn’t really say anything, because I spoke to her afterwards when the whole ordeal was over with.… She said, ‘I tried to call out to ya, but I couldn’t.'”

‘Wouldn’t have changed anything’

Despite the extent of his injuries and extended hospital stay, Stead said he thinks he “did the right thing,” and has few regrets about jumping into a harrowing situation.

“Let’s just say if I decided, ‘OK, I’m not gonna go over there, I’m gonna let the police take care of it,’ the girl would be dead. I can tell you that right now.… The young kid himself, he would have been without a mother,” Stead said.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything. The only thing I probably would have been more aware of is him instead of her, because when I got over there all my concentration was on her. My concentration should have been on him … with a knife.”

Stead has already recounted that day before the courts, but will be back as a witness in October.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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