Three county officers save man from burning car
In minutes, driver was pulled from fireravaged vehicle
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.”
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.