“We Won’t Leave You Here to Burn. We’re Gonna Get You Out of Here”

On 16 August 2012, Giovanna Demonte, age 36, crashed her car on I-10, just past the Mississippi side of the Louisiana-Mississippi line. In the back seat was her sister, Felicidad Demonte, age 39, who uses a wheelchair. The car caught on fire, the driver was trapped inside and had head injuries, and 15 to 20 people, including a photographer for the Associated Press, rescued both women. Photographer Gerald Herbert said that the disabled woman was rescued first, and the rescuers had great difficulty as they tried to free the driver. He said, “No one had fire extinguishers. We were all sure she was going to perish. The sounds of her screams and the sight of the fire inching closer to her, that was the most horrible and helpless feeling I’ve ever felt in my life.” The rescuers kept flagging down vehicles in hopes of getting water or fire extinguishers. Truckers were a good source of fire extinguishers that were used to keep the fire from the reaching the driver. Petty Officer Melissa Estes, who is stationed at the Naval base in Gulfport, arrived early on the scene. She said, “I noticed the smoke. I saw only one person so I stopped and ran down there to help. Others also stopped and a couple of guys broke the windows to the back passenger seat and were able to pull the girl out and her wheelchair. We got her to the road safely. The woman kept screaming ‘My baby! My baby!’ I really thought the car was going to blow up.” Zach Miller, of Hurley, Mississippi, said that the trapped driver was screaming. He said, “I kept telling her, ‘We won’t leave you here to burn. We’re gonna get you out of here.” A cement truck joined the rescue effort and sprayed water on the burning SUV. Harold Catha Jr. of Hurley said, “She was so blessed that mixer had a water hose. I know that saved her life.” Mr. Catha used a fire extinguisher to beat back the fire. He said, “But the flames would abate for a second or two, but then blaze back. The mixer was able to put water inside the vehicle when the flames were trying to get to her. While the water was being poured on her and the fire, they were able to pull the car up out of the woods and get her out. It all took maybe 10 to 12 minutes, but it felt a whole lot longer.” The rescuers used crowbars to get the driver out. Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Ben Seibert said about the driver, who was airlifted in stable condition to Gulfport Memorial Hospital in Mississippi, “She had serious head trauma. Anytime that happens, injuries are considered life-threatening.” Mr. Seibert added, “We greatly appreciate those who stopped because sometimes there are accidents when nobody stops.”

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