Three county of­fi­cers save man from burn­ing car

In min­utes, driver was pulled from fir­erav­aged ve­hi­cle

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

It’s 3:32 in the morn­ing on Jan. 29. It’s cold — a typ­i­cal win­ter morn­ing. It’s quiet. Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice Master Cpl. Don Ka­bala was in a park­ing lot at a car deal­er­ship help­ing the Mary- land State Po­lice with a DWI ar­rest.

All was rou­tine un­til Ka­bala said he heard a large crash, spring­ing him into ac­tion. He hopped into his po­lice cruiser and put in a call on the ra­dio chan­nel. He did not know what waited around the cor­ner; re­gard­less, he pushed on.

At 3:33 a.m., Ka­bala pulled out on to U.S. 301 north­bound in Wal­dorf.

Just ahead, he spot­ted a truck in the me­dian en­gulfed in flames. The SUV struck a pole and caught fire. He im­medi- ately got out and got to work. No pro­tec­tive gear. No tools to open the car. Just a fire ex­tin­guisher and his hands.

Ka­bala quickly sur­veyed the ve­hi­cle to look for an en­try point, but found that the pas­sen­ger side doors that slammed into a pole were jammed and would not open. Smoke quickly be­gan to build up in the car, he said, as he at­tempted to find the best way in­side.

It’s 3:34 a.m. and sher- iff’s deputies Pfc. Eric Scud­eri and Pfc. Christo­pher Mor­ris ar­rived on the scene. Both rushed to the ve­hi­cle with fire ex­tin­guish­ers at­tempt­ing to squelch the flames, but it only stopped for a few short sec­onds be­fore build­ing up again.

“It must have been the gas line; it kept com­ing back,” Ka­bala said in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day. “The ex­tin­guish­ers weren’t work­ing.”

Mor­ris, who has some ex­pe­ri­ence as a fire­man, said as they con­tin­ued to work with the fire ex­tin­guish­ers, smoke con­tin­ued to build up in the car. They went through five ex­tin­guish­ers, he said, be­fore the of­fi­cers de­cided they had to make a de­ci­sion.

“We said, ‘It’s not go­ing to get out. And if he sits there any longer, he’s go­ing to pass away,’” Mor­ris said.

It is now 3:35 a.m. The of­fi­cers moved in on the car and were look­ing for the driver, later iden­ti­fied as a 35-year-old man from Clin­ton. They were able to find a way in through the driver’s side, but the driver was in the pas­sen­ger’s side of the car af­ter be­ing hurled around dur­ing the ac­ci­dent.

“We were look­ing for him in the driver’s side. So I’m see­ing some­one on the pas­sen­ger side. I as­sumed he was a pas­sen­ger and was still look­ing for the driver,” Ka­bala said.

They man­aged to free the driver and drag him a safe dis­tance away, Mor­ris said, to avoid any ex­plo­sion that may oc­cur. Min­utes later, Ka­bala said, the fire de­part­ment showed up and put the fire out.

They were timely, he said, and may have got­ten there in time to save the driver. But that was not some­thing the of­fi­cers could af­ford to think about in that mo­ment.

“Un­for­tu­nately, you have to just dive right in,” Mor­ris said. There was no spe­cific train­ing for a burn­ing car or any real pro­ce­dures that they were to fol­low in that sce­nario, he noted.

But Scud­eri said it did not mat­ter. The quick-think­ing ac­tions were just part of do­ing their job and “sav­ing a life.” The of­fi­cers man­aged to get out safely and the driver was trans­ported to the hos­pi­tal to deal with any in­juries.

“To process it, when you’re deal­ing with it on the scene, you don’t even think about it. You just act,” Scud­eri said. “We’ve all been of­fi­cers long enough to where things are repet­i­tive. And our job is based on the preser­va­tion of life. And we want to help our cit­i­zens so when you get there and you see that, it’s just sec­ond na­ture.”

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

From left, Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fi­cers Christo­pher Mor­ris, Don Ka­bala and David Scud­eri stand in front of the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice head­quar­ters pre­par­ing to talk to re­porters af­ter sav­ing a man from a burn­ing car on Jan. 29.

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