Passers-by who pulled a driver from his burning vehicle mere minutes after seeing him crash into a treeline along Interstate 55 near Amite saved him from certain death, the city’s fire chief said Wednesday.
Amite Fire Chief Bruce Cutrer said the victim, whose condition is unknown, certainly would have burned to death had the bystanders not stopped to pry him from the wreckage and pull him to safety until emergency responders could arrive.
“The car was completely engulfed within minutes,” recalled James Mixon, a construction worker from Chesbrough.
Mixon and his son, Chris, were traveling northbound, headed home from work about 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, when they noticed a car on the southbound side veer off the interstate and strike a tree.
“Man, just instantly, flames started coming out of the hood,” James Mixon said. “I told my son we should stop and run over there. We were right there at the Arcola exit, so we got off and back on headed the other way.”
Lance Strickland, a St. Helena Parish 6th Ward firefighter from Kentwood, said he had been in a southbound lane when the car first passed him, then drifted left and nearly hit another car.
“She blew the horn at him, and I guess it woke him up because he swerved hard, overcorrected and slid across the wet road, off into the trees,” Strickland said. “The car caught fire on impact.”
Strickland tried to stop immediately but felt his vehicle start to slide on the rain-slicked asphalt. He pulled onto the shoulder a little farther up the road, dialed 911 and started running back toward the wreck.
“When I got to the car, it was worse than I had thought,” Strickland said. “I thought maybe it had hit a tree and busted a line or something and there was just a little flame. But the whole front end was already on fire, and it was coming in through the dash.”
Strickland said he struggled with the driver’s door, which had been jammed in the crash.
Mixon and his son jumped in to help, with James Mixon holding the door handle up while Chris Mixon reached in through the broken window to pull on the door.
“We finally got it where it would open, and I undid the dude’s seat belt,” James Mixon said.
The driver, Anthony Evaman, of Detroit, Michigan, fell out of the car and rolled to the ground, Mixon said.
“He was conscious when we got to him, screaming for help,” Strickland said. “But between the pain and his adrenaline pumping, I don’t think he really knew what was going on. He just knew that he needed help.”
The fire had breached the steering column and was lapping at Evaman as the men pried his legs loose from the mangled and twisted dashboard.
“I told him, ‘Come on now. We got to go, got to go,’ ” Mixon said.
The men picked Evaman up by the arms and legs and carried him to Chris Mixon’s pickup on the shoulder, where they laid down the tailgate and hoisted Evaman onto the bed.
Jerry Harris, a lieutenant at Baton Rouge Fire Department’s Station 13, was driving back to Baton Rouge from visiting his parents in Mississippi when he saw the men carrying Evaman away from the blazing car.
“It was just instinct to stop after 17 years with the fire department,” Harris said. Afraid Evaman’s car might explode, the men moved Mixon’s truck away from the wreckage.
Cutrer, the Amite fire chief, arrived about the same time, and Harris offered his assistance until an ambulance could arrive.
Evaman had severe lacerations to his arms and complained of extreme pain in his legs and right hip, Harris and Mixon said.
Harris said Evaman’s external injuries did not appear life-threatening, but the complaints of leg and hip pain indicated possible internal fractures.
Acadian Ambulance took Evaman to Hood Memorial Hospital in Amite, from which he was later airlifted to another hospital.
Cutrer said he plans to publicly recognize the group, along with fellow good Samaritan rescuer Debra Burris, of Mount Hermon, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, for their heroic efforts.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.