Although he was recognized by the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association this week with an award for valor, Marietta Township resident Michael Lisk doesn't see himself as a hero.
"No. Willy was the hero," Lisk said Friday. "He died protecting his friend."
The 56-year-old Lisk, a former military policeman, was presented with the Citizens Award of Valor during the association's annual conference in Sandusky. He was nominated by Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks for his actions on Jan. 12, when 40-year-old Holly Fickiesen ran to his Caywood Road home after her boyfriend, 35-year-old Willard "Willy" Baker, had been shot and killed by her ex, 35-year-old Steven Leonhart.
Leonhart had broken into Baker's neighboring home shortly after Baker left for work. He beat, assaulted and tormented Fickiesen before Baker returned for an unknown reason. Leonhart shot and killed him as he entered the room.
Fickiesen was able to escape around 6:30 a.m. Lisk opened the front door and Fickiesen pushed into his house, followed by Leonhart, who was wielding the shotgun he'd used to kill Baker.
"There was no time to think. Just had to act, react," Lisk said Friday during a press conference at the Washington County Jail. "The only thing I knew to do was get him out of the house, and that's what I did."
According to a release from Mincks, Lisk grabbed the barrel of the gun and a struggle ensued. Eventually, Leonhart wrested the weapon away from Lisk, knocking the older man to the floor. He pointed the gun at Lisk but did not fire, then left the porch.
Lisk suffered a shattered hip that had to be completely replaced later that day, as well as a broken finger, severely bruised forearm and cuts on his hands. It took him nearly five months to recover from the injuries, but Lisk said it was worth it.
"Absolutely. He was going to murder that girl. I wasn't going to let him do it," he said.
In the release, Mincks notes Lisk kept his eye on Leonhart as he sought cover on the porch and was able to tell responding sheriff's deputies in which direction Leonhart fled. Leonhart was arrested without incident in the woods a couple of hours later.
"(Lisk) acted without regard for his own safety, and I think that's something we need to recognize," Mincks said.
The sheriff said that while his office does not encourage citizens to engage armed criminals, Lisk "didn't have a choice."
Lisk's wife, Karen, on Friday recalled getting a call from a neighbor who was riding with her husband to the hospital.
"Then Mike got on the phone and talked to me and said there'd been an incident," she said.
Once Karen Lisk got the full story, she said she wasn't surprised by her husband's actions.
"We've been married almost 30 years, and he'd've done it 30 years ago, and he'll do it 30 years from now," she said.
Karen Lisk said the fallout from the incident is something they live with every day, especially since they still reside next door to the place where their friend and neighbor was murdered.
Baker's sister, Christy Drake, 34, of Marietta, also attended Friday's press conference. While the circumstances leading to it fill her with sorrow, she said Lisk is very deserving of the honor.
"We're proud of what Mike did that day," she said.
Mincks said the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, a coordinating group for sheriffs' offices in all 88 Ohio counties, bestows the award on individuals who have made sacrifices to help others. However, a nomination doesn't automatically result in an award, he said, noting he's nominated people in the past who did not receive the honor.
Leonhart pleaded guilty in August to first-degree felony counts of aggravated murder and aggravated burglary, as well as a second-degree charge of felonious assault for his attack on Lisk. He was sentenced earlier this month to life in prison and will not be eligible for parole for 52 years.
Lisk said he was satisfied with the sentence.