Off Beat: Yacolt man not just hero, but YouTube star

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When Bob Robeck learned that he'd become a character in an animated YouTube video, he was shocked.

"I called my daughter and said, 'I'm a cartoon,'" he said with a hearty chuckle.

As we reported last week, the 44-year-old Yacolt man was on Interstate 84 in Oregon when he saw a car go off the road, roll on its top and catch on fire.

With a pocketknife in hand, Robeck kicked out a window and sliced through Ketsy Roeder's seat belt.

Unable to pull her through the window, Robeck and other rescuers tipped the car on its side and pulled the Kennewick woman through the sunroof moments before flames engulfed the car.

The online version of the story spread across the region -- and the globe.

TomoNews, an arm of Taiwanese animation company Next Media Animation, had its video on YouTube the next day.

Their news team looks for stories with "wow" and "lol" (laugh out loud) factors, said marketing editor Jamie Cheng.

The 41-second video — "CAR ACCIDENT: Good samaritans rescue woman from car on fire" — uses three-dimensional computer-generated images.

It took only 90 minutes to make. "We have an amazingly huge model database of things in this world," Cheng said.

"When news events happen, we already have similar animations ready that we tinker around with and customize to tell the particular story."

'What's their take?'

Before he was able to see the video, Robeck said, "I was actually apprehensive about it. I thought, 'What's their take on it? Are they making fun of it?' You never know."

After watching it, he said he found the video funny.

"Obviously, I was flattered … it is so humbling," he said. "I was so happy they didn't depict it in a manner that I did it alone, or overdramatizing."

The video did have some differences. Robeck said the chaotic rescue he described to reporters looked seamless in the animated version: "I wish it had happened that fast."

In a town the size of Yacolt — which Robeck notes has one bar, one store and one bank — he's gotten a lot of attention for the news and the video. And he's not sure how to react.

When he walked into the bank last week, he received a standing ovation.

"Talk about fight or flee: I almost grabbed my cash and started running."

— Emily Gillespie

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.