Goodsamaritans save three youths

Published on Thu, Jan 5, 2006 by ack Kintner

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Good samaritans save three youths

By Jack Kintner

Three Des Moines teenagers are alive today to tell others about their hard lesson on safe driving thanks to three local people who stopped and pulled them from their burning car last month on Interstate 5 about five miles south of Blaine.

The accident happened shortly after noon on Sunday, December 18, in front of Anthony Lopez, 27, of Lynden and Sue George, 55, of Blaine, each southbound on the freeway. Riding with Lopez were his fiancé, Cammell Craig, 22, and Craig’s grandmother, Beverly Lawrence, all headed to Bellingham for Christmas shopping. Meanwhile, George was driving her son John, 22, to work at the Bellingham Sportsplex ice rink, where he plays and coaches hockey. George was slightly ahead of Lopez.

Both cars were passed by a 1991 silver Toyota Corolla just south of the Loomis Trail overpass that Lopez said was going close to 80 mph. “I slowed down when he passed me and then swerved into my lane,” said George. “He then swerved fast into the left lane and then really hard back to the right. He went off the road and rolled four or five times.”

“And he didn’t just swerve,” added Lopez, “he basically made what looked like a hard right-hand turn” at 70 mph. “I could see the whole side of his car when he crossed [in front of George], and then he dug in his left front wheel in the shoulder and began flipping over and over. Every time the car hit the ground there would be this cloud of dirt, and then the car would come up out of it rolling,” Lopez said.
Estimates of the number of times the car rolled varied from four to eight. There are four impact craters about 40 feet apart still visible in the shoulder, each with some debris from the car. They ended in a large black patch of ground where the car came to rest upright next to the barbed wire freeway fence bordering a 10-foot ditch half full of water and covered with an inch or so of ice from the December cold snap.

Craig called 911 from Lopez’s car as he and George pulled over and stopped near where the car came to rest. Lopez and George ran to the car and found the driver, Brian Spurlock, and the front seat passenger, Erik Seymour, conscious but dazed. “They were definitely (in shock),” said George, “and luckily I carry blankets in my car for when I go watch my son play hockey in Bellingham.”
Her husband John said later that she returned home with her jacket covered with blood.

Lopez said that he could see flames under the hood as he talked with Spurlock and Seymour, and told them they had to get out of the car immediately. All four doors were jammed so Lopez helped Seymour out the passenger side window and got Spurlock to crawl out the top through the sun roof. “The roof itself was about 50 feet away, right where I took them both to get them away from the burning car.”

George, who’s no more than five feet tall, was meanwhile struggling with the third passenger, Justin Hoefle, who was sitting in the back seat and was the most seriously injured of the three. “He couldn’t seem to understand and I couldn’t pull him out by myself,” George said.

She managed to get his seat belt off and yelled for her son John, “who’s about six-three and 200 pounds. He came over and basically yanked Justin right out of the back seat through the window. Once we got them all on the grass the car began flaming and then when it reached the gas tank it really went up,” she said.

Lopez said that the grass around the wreck scene burned first “in a big ring, like the gas tank had spewed fuel, and the grass was really dry. When it reached the car then it really got going.”

About this time Mike Hill and Skye Rowell, both of Blaine, also stopped. “We pulled up and the car was really on fire,” said Rowell. Hill told the two drivers to move their vehicles farther away from the fire and shortly after that their places were taken by an aid car, soon joined by a second aid car, and two engines from North Whatcom Fire & Rescue Services (NWFRS). “As we were pulling in I saw the [paramedic staffed] Medic 3 unit from Bellingham pass us going northbound on the freeway to the next place it could turn around and return to the scene,” said NWFRS firefighter Leslee Smith. NWFRS response time was estimated to be about 10 minutes by both George and Lopez.

“I later called Spurlock’s step-mother with a cell phone,” said George, “and told her what was going on.”

“[Seymour] admitted right away that he’d jerked the steering wheel out of Spurlock’s hands,” said Lopez. “We couldn’t smell any alcohol, no beer, nothing like that. It was just teenagers messing around.” Seymour was cited by the Washington State Patrol for reckless endangerment for his antics. All three boys, whose ages were not available, were taken to St. Joseph Hospital and later released. Spurlock had a broken arm and Hoefle had a severely bruised or broken nose that bled profusely, Lopez said.

Smith said that the NWFRS board intends to award plaques and citations to Lopez, Sue George and her son John. “We’re also recommending them for this next round of Real Heroes awards that the county gives out each year,” Smith said, “because what they did deserves recognition. They saved those three boys who otherwise would have died in that car fire.”