Fort Worth officers rescue man from burning car
An undercover Fort Worth officer was heading north on South Riverside Drive a little after midnight Wednesday when he saw a gray sedan blow through a red light up the road and hit a southbound white Cadillac.
The gray sedan, which had its lights off, rattled to a stop about 20 feet in front of Officer Miller, whose first name has been withheld by police due to the nature of his undercover work. And then, a flash of light rocked from the car, and clouds of hazy dark smoke, Miller said.
He leaped out of his car.
Thinking on his feet — and quickly readjusting his priorities, as he had been working a violent crime detail — Miller put in a call over the radio for any officers in the area to respond to the scene of a major accident. Another undercover officer, Officer Lopez, arrived about 30 seconds later. They got to work.
A man who appeared to be in his 20s was slumped over in the front seat of the gray sedan, unconscious and with no seat belt on. As orange flames rose from the car, beginning to spread, they pulled him from the car and together carried him to the curb away from the fire. Fragments of vehicles scattered the pavement.
When Miller and Lopez turned around to check on the single occupant of the white Cadillac, the man had already gotten himself out of the car.
By the time firefighters arrived on the scene minutes later, the gray sedan had burned until it was charred and destroyed. Miller and Lopez, as well as the other officers who arrived to help, were left to ponder the tragedy that could have been, had they not been there.
“It was late at night and not a whole lot of people out,” Miller said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“As quiet as that night was ... I don’t even know if I saw any bystanders watching what happened,” Lopez said. “It’s sad to think of what would have happened. I believe Miller was going down there for a reason.”
The officers spoke to media as police have been commending the pair for their quick thinking in the face of potential disaster. Police asked for their silhouettes and voices to be obscured in any videos to protect their identities.
Cpl. Kathryn Freix — Miller and Lopez’s assigned supervisor — also responded to Miller’s radio call and helped them pull the man safely away from the flames.
“It was awesome,” Freix said of her officers’ life-saving efforts. “I told them (that) right there.”
The men said they felt a responsibility in the moment to leap into action to help, as officers and as civilians, and said others would’ve done the same.
Lopez tried to take deep breaths to stay calm and imagine all the people who would have been upset had the man in the sedan not come home.
“You know this guy’s got to get home to his family,” he said. “You just gotta step up and do whatever you need to do.”
The condition of the injured man wasn’t available Wednesday afternoon. Police said there are no charges in connection to the incident.
‘We’ve got to get this guy out of here’
The pair of officers hadn’t technically prepared for a situation like this.
Lopez said undercover officers don’t need to receive training in extricating someone from a burning vehicle, typically a job for firefighters. But, when faced with a burning car and a ticking clock, he and Miller relied on their instincts as officers. They worked through the situation, step by step.
After he put in the call over the radio, Miller went to check on the man in the sedan and then the man in the Cadillac, whose body had been thrown into his windshield. That’s when Lopez arrived at the scene and hurried toward the sedan.
He opened the door and began yelling at the unconscious man, trying to get his attention, but there was no response. Miller at this time began walking toward him, and he noticed the flames were spreading.
“I just told Miller,” he said, “‘we’ve got to get this guy out of here because this flame’s getting bigger.”
Lopez tried pulling on his left arm, but that only caused him to slump further into his seat. He then grabbed him from his back shoulders and pulled him into the street.
He carried his torso as Miller carried his legs and Freix walked with them and assisted.
Lopez ran to his car to grab a fire extinguisher so he could try to tame the flames, which kept growing larger, Lopez said. Officers kept an eye on the status of the fire, eventually moving the injured man to a grassy hill further away from the flames.
When Lopez saw the flashing lights of the fire trucks, he said he felt a weight lift off his shoulders.
“It was a relief,” he said, “that they were going to be able to put that out.”
‘Anyone would have done it’
Lopez has received a commendation from police before for pulling victims from a burning building. An electrical box had caught on fire, he said, and residents had been trapped.
But he’s still not used to recognition, he said. And he’s quick to reject it.
“I would hope to think that anyone would have done it,” he said. “Anybody driving by or walking by or whatever it may be.”
Miller echoed that sentiment, saying, “Anybody in my shoes would’ve gotten out and helped those people.”
He knew he was alone on that dark roadway, he said. He knew it was his job to help.
“When that happened,” he said, “I was like, ‘Well, I’m kind of here by myself so I’ve got to evaluate the situation and see what needs to be done.’”