Good Samaritans Assist in I-20 Rescue

TERRELL – City of Terrell Fire Department officials are crediting a crowd of good Samaritans with saving a man’s life following a Dec. 4 fiery accident on Interstate 20 near the Wilson Road Exit.  That man, 56-year-old Michael Pierce of Tyler, will be celebrating his birthday this week, an occasion that he might not have lived to see had it not been for their heroic efforts.

At 10:35 a.m. Dec. 4, two TFD units were dispatched to an accident in which a pickup struck the rear end of a semi-tractor trailer, causing the pickup to combust.

Upon their arrival, TFD personnel discovered multiple drivers had stopped and were trying to contain the fire, assist with traffic control and free 56-year-old Michael Pierce of Tyler, who was pinned under the dash of his pickup truck. Soon After, Kaufman County Sheriff deputies Conner Martin and Dylan Roberts arrived on the scene and joined the Good Samaritans in the successful rescue effort.

Cathy Martin of San Diego, CA, was traveling Westbound on Interstate 20 near Trinity Valley Community College. Martin, who is originally from Edgewood, was in town visiting family and was on her way to Dallas when she came upon the accident.

Martin said she was about three cars behind the pickup. When she saw the smoke she moved over to the left hand lane.

“I pulled over and was calling 9-1-1 as I was running back to the truck,” she said.

Rabbi Michael Wallace of Tyler was traveling to Dallas with Jose Ortega, president of their synagogue, when they saw the truck and noticed fire beginning to burn underneath.

“The truck was already filling with black, noxious smoke.  We could hardly see the driver for the smoke.  It was obvious that it was imperative to break the glass on each side, to get a cross breeze,” Wallace said.

Wallace said another individual assisted him and Ortega with breaking the glass on the passenger’s side before Ortega broke the glass on the driver’s side with an object he found in the bed of the wrecked pickup.

When the rescuers realized the driver’s-side door of the pickup was crushed and jammed shut, they began trying to pry it open.

“I went for a ratchet strap in the bed of the pickup.  Another man understood what I was about to do and without words between us, assisted me in attaching the strap to the door frame around where the window glass had been.  A group of us men first attempted to use our body weight to pull the door open, but when that failed, a man backed his pickup to the wrecked pickup and we tied the strap to the trailer hitch on his truck and he was able to pull the door open,” Wallace said.

Wallace said when the fire got out of control and began coming through the cab of the truck stopped an 18-wheeler and asked to use his fire extinguisher.

“It was then that I began running from side to side, fighting the fire, which kept flaring up, while Jose worked with others to free Mr. Pierce’s trapped, right leg,” Wallace said.

Areli Benitez of Lewisville said he was traveling next to the 18-wheeler that was directly behind the pickup truck.

“As soon as I saw the truck hit, I pulled off to the shoulder,” Benitez said. “I always carry containers of water in the back, so I grabbed them and started pouring them on the fire.”

Reggie Ratliff, a truck driver from Athens, Georgia, said he travels the Interstate regularly between Georgia and California. He said he noticed a vehicle ahead of him was on fire so he was approaching with caution. When he saw people at the scene acting frantic he said he realized someone was trapped, so he pulled over and got a fire extinguisher from his truck.

“Half of us were trying to contain the fire and the others were working to free the victim,” Ratliff said.

Steve Moody, who was traveling westbound on I-20 noticed a crowd people around the burning truck. He said he was not going to stop until he realized the driver was still trapped inside.

When Moody pulled over he said he ran to the passenger’s side of the truck and saw that the driver’s seatbelt was undone. He then assisted other volunteers with attaching the strap to the door of the burning pickup truck and ultimately freeing the man.

Captain Lynn Bruno, a 32-year veteran of the Irving Fire Department, had just gotten off his shift and was headed to his home near Canton when he said he saw two sheriff vehicles pass him near Buc-ee’s.

“I topped the hill and saw smoke from the pickup,” Bruno said.

Meanwhile, Michael Ashenfelter, of Midlothian, was driving on I-20 when he saw the crowd trying to open the door. He stopped and backed his truck up. The volunteers tied the tow strap to his trailer hitch and collectively were able to open the door.

 

 

“There were flames coming from where the windshield had been. I was tugging at him and telling him he had to get out,” Bruno said.  “At some point he fell on top of me and several people at the scene helped me drag him to the side.”

Bruno said he cut the victim’s pants to reveal his injuries and put a tourniquet on his leg to stop the bleeding.

Martin said she placed the victim’s head in her lap and tried to talk to him and keep him calm until the CareFlite helicopter arrived.

After talking to the individuals who assisted at the scene, TFD Captain Eric James said he has no doubt their heroic efforts were instrumental in saving the man’s life. In addition, James said several of the volunteers who stopped to offer assistance had to move their vehicles to allow the CareFlite helicopter room to land so there may be others whose identities are unknown.

“They went above and beyond to free the driver of the pickup from certain death by forcing 18 wheelers to stop and commandeering their fire extinguishers. Using a tow strap and an additional vehicle to force the door open and gain access to the victim, the individuals were able to release the victim’s legs from what had to be significant entrapment based on the damage I saw,” James said. “Considering the amount of smoke and fire that I observed, there is no question in my mind the victim would not have survived without the quick and heroic actions of these people.”

Pierce was taken by CareFlite to Parkland Hospital in Dallas. His wife Marsha said in a phone interview on Dec. 12 that her husband was released from the hospital on Dec. 11 and is working on getting the therapy he needs to recover.

 

“If so many people had not stopped to help it might not have had the same outcome,” she said.

 

Mrs. Pierce said she and her husband are grateful to everyone who had a part in the rescue and are anxious to meet them and express their gratitude.