Witnesses Describe the Attempt to Save Driver Trapped in Fiery Crash
“I was going southbound,” Johnson explained. “I looked over and saw a car crashed. There was a federal officer there trying to get someone out.” A young woman was there also. Johnson pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed his medical kit.
“I saw a whiff of smoke,” he said. “The young lady started yelling for fire extinguishers.”
Travelers began scrambling to grab extinguishers. Johnson said he tried to help get the driver out of the vehicle. “The officer had broken the window out,” he explained. So, Johnson tried to open the door but it wouldn’t move. “I hit the unlock button but the door was fairly damaged,” he explained.
“There were numerous other people trying to help,” he said. “There was a very nice young lady. She was doing everything she could…She was trying to get the doors open but they wouldn’t.”
Meanwhile, the smoke and then flames kept streaming out from under the hood. “At first it was in the front and then it was coming out from under the car,” Johnson explained.
Many people brought fire extinguishers. “At least 10 extinguishers…I was emptying them out,” Johnson said, but nothing that they had on site could stop the flames.
Another passerby, a trucker named Dean Crayton, described the scene, “Several passerby’s, a tribal police officer and myself did everything we possibly could to try and free this man from the wreckage and flames but we just could not get him out.”
Johnson noted that the flames kept getting worse. “It got to the point that the smoke and the flames were overwhelming,” he explained. In the midst of the confusion, a sound pierced the chaos. “I heard sirens,” he said, “And it gave me hope [that a fire engine with its powerful hoses had arrived] but it was an ambulance.”
Johnson said the fire kept growing. “The wind was not in our favor,” he explained. “It was blowing the flames right at us.”
Crayton said, “[The man] was trapped…It was a sad situation that left us all feeling helpless that we could not do more to save him…Prayers to his loved ones…I wish we could have done more.”When asked if he considered himself a hero, Garberville firefighter Will Johnson said, “No, I just did what needed to be done.”
When asked if the others who helped were heroes, he didn’t pause, “They definitely were. I’m used to it but for the average person to stop and get involved, that is pretty awesome.”
That may be true, but, as truck driver Dean Crayton said, “The sounds and chaos of the situation are something those there on scene will never forget…” —-whether they were officers, a young woman, truck drivers, or firefighters.
Press release from the California Highway Patrol:
On November 5, 2018, at approximately 1418 hours, a BMW X3 was being driven northbound on US-101, at an unknown rate of speed. For reasons still under investigation, the male driver allowed his vehicle to travel off of the east roadway edge, down an embankment where it collided with a large tree. The BMW became engulfed in flames after the collision. Several passing motorists stopped at the scene and attempted to extricate the driver from the BMW but were unsuccessful due to the vehicle fire. Upon the fire being extinguished, the driver was pronounced deceased at the scene. The identity of the driver is unknown at this time and is pending investigation by the Mendocino County Coroner’s Office.
Personnel from the California Highway Patrol responded and assumed incident command.
Personnel from Cahto Tribal Police, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, Cal-Fire, and Cal-Trans all responded and assisted at the scene. Traffic was stopped in both directions briefly, then one way traffic control was conducted as emergency responders worked at the scene.
Alcohol and/or drugs as a factor in this collision is still under investigation. This incident remains under investigation by the California Highway Patrol.