Wednesday, 19 October 2011 16:33

Bystanders rescue passenger from burning vehicle

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By Matthew Liebenberg — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

After more than a week a bunch of red roses and a scorched patch in the tall grass are the only evidence of the tragic event that happened about four kilometres west of Rush Lake on the Trans Canada highway.

On Oct. 11 at about 11:25 a.m,. a single vehicle rollover close to the bottom of a long hill flung the 18-year-old female driver from Craven out of the SUV.

The vehicle and surrounding grass started to burn almost immediately while the seriously injured 19-year-old female passenger was still inside.

Ken Williams and his son Anthony from Burlington, North Carolina were on their way to Swift Current for breakfast when they came over the Rush Lake hill. They were on their annual water fowl hunting trip to Canada and they had just finished hunting that morning.

“Down at the bottom the first we saw was the vehicle leaving the road, going down into the ditch. Then it flipped sideways multiple times, four or five times probably. By the time I got down to where the Jeep was and got our vehicle stopped — their vehicle was already on fire.”

Anthony ran over to the burning vehicle and he was soon joined by Jonathan Thomason and Blaine Switzer, who came running from the adjacent farmland.

“We were looking at some cattle right there,” Switzer recalled. “I just looked over there and there was a Jeep rolling and then it started on fire right away. So we went over there and helped as much as we could.”

The three men struggled to free the young woman from the vehicle as the flames grew larger.

“The flames were all around us,” Switzer said.

In the meantime, Ken Williams found the young driver in the ditch and he moved her away from the burning vehicle.

“There was a moderate wind, so the fire kept spreading and moving our way,” he said. “I had to move her out of the grass where she was further into the ditch so the fire didn’t get to her.”

While doing this he kept an eye on the other men, who were still struggling to move the passenger from the vehicle.

“They were in, around, on the vehicle, trying to cut this other young lady out. … They were on the vehicle at one point because they couldn’t get the door open. They had to bring her out over the back of the Jeep.”

Ken said his son had some hairs zinged off his arms, but Anthony did not suffer any other injuries.

“There were a couple of times when they had to back off and then go back in,” Ken recalled. “As they watched the fire, as things flamed up they backed off and went back as soon as they could get back.”

By now other motorists have also stopped to assist. One of them tried CPR on the driver, but she never regained consciousness and EMS personnel pronounced her dead at the scene.

“It’s unsettling,” Ken said. “I can still see her face if I close my eyes. It’s one of those memories that you will probably just carry with you forever.”

Not long after the men pulled the passenger from the wreck, the vehicle was engulfed by flames.

According to Cpl. Heather Tarzwell of the Swift Current Rural RCMP detachment, she was transported to Cypress Regional Hospital for treatment. The following day she was transferred to a hospital in Regina.

“She’s going to be fine. She’s got some injuries that she still has to heal from, but she’ll be fine.”

The actions of the bystanders have received praise from emergency personnel.

“We had tons of help and a lot of them deserve a lot of credit,” Tarzwell said. “It was awesome to see.”

Herbert Fire Chief Bryan Redekop said the bystanders were heroic and selfless.

“They actually risked their lives trying to get this girl out of the vehicle and pulled them out of the fire zone. They did a good job.”

Seven of Herbert’s volunteer firefighters went out to the scene to bring the fire under control. One of them told Redekop the jacket of one of the men who went into the wrecked vehicle had burn marks on it.

But the men who were actually involved in the incident do not consider themselves to be heroes.

“We’re not looking for any acknowledgement or nothing like that,” Switzer said. “A guy is not looking to be a hero.”

Ken Williams said there is simply no choice, but to help in such a situation.

“There was no one else there. I mean, you have to respond. I would say you’re probably morally negligent if you don’t respond in a situation. Obviously if it were your child you would want someone to respond.”

A RCMP traffic analyst attended the accident scene, but Cpl. Tarzwell said the matter was still under investigation.

"The accident reconstructionist attended the scene and they’ll do their complete report. By then we should have a better idea of what happened."


There's charred grass in the ditch where the Rush Lake accident occurred on the Trans Canada Highway.

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