Saturday, a group of strangers united to save a 21-year-old man from what could have been a deadly car accident.
Jennifer Tait, 31, of North Buffalo, was the first person on scene. Tait was on her way to pick up a friend for a run at about 9 a.m. when she crossed under the Scajaquada Expressway overpass on Delaware Avenue. A “rooster tail” of dirt caught her eye.
She was driving south on Delaware, and she saw that a car going north had jumped the curb and was on the median grass. Track marks later showed its left tire was on the grass while its right tire remained on the road. It was headed right for the bridge abutment.
“I saw it strike the bridge, and the car bounced off the abutment,” Tait recalled. “It came to rest under the overpass and was on fire immediately.”
Tait slammed on her brakes, jumped out of her car and dialed 911; the operator yelled at her to calm down. As she ran toward the car – a maroon 2000 Chevrolet Lumina – she saw just how serious the wreck was.
“The whole front end was so destroyed I was almost afraid to open the door, afraid of what I’d find,” she said.
She did open it, though, and found the driver, Victorio Lugo, was unconscious. His entire lower body had been crushed into the car, and the steering wheel was pushed up to his face.
“I was like, ‘There’s no way. I don’t know how I can get this man out,’ ” Tait said. “Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot I could do, so I felt helpless.”
Then help arrived. Cars started stopping. Five to seven people joined Tait in trying to pry the doors open. They checked to make sure no one else was in the vehicle. Smoke was filling the car.
As the flames were escalating, Lugo woke up. He was moaning with pain. Tait remembers putting her hand on his shoulder and telling him help was on its way.
She yelled, “Does anybody have a fire extinguisher?”
“The fire was getting so bad I thought we’d have to abandon him and have to watch him burn to death,” Tait said.
By that point, traffic had backed up on Delaware, and a Metro bus was part of the lineup of cars. A man had the idea to grab a fire extinguisher from the bus.
Although that put out most of the fire, the blaze continued and soon became worse. The group of good Samaritans poured water bottles on the car, but their efforts were futile.
Tait and a nurse on scene tried to distract Lugo, who was talking but was not comprehensible. A man started directing cars so an ambulance could get through.
When it got to the point when Tait thought they’d have to leave, the Fire Department arrived.
Firefighters put the flames out, then they removed the top of the car to free Lugo, who is listed in fair condition at ECMC.