Little Zachary Myrtle was safe at home Monday with his grandmother, thanks to a 27-year-old Lewiston man who helped free the 2-year-old from a burning car wreck on Interstate 190.
"The police and the paramedics were the real heroes," said Ethan Unterweger. "I just did what I could."
The boy's mother, Shelley Myrtle, 22, of Ransomville, was listed in serious condition in Erie County Medical Center, Buffalo. Zachary was treated in Buffalo Children's Hospital and released.
"He's badly bruised, but he's going to be OK," said his grandmother, Donna Dale, who is looking after the boy in her Niagara Falls home.
Myrtle was driving home late Friday night when she lost control of her car on I-190 near the Porter-Packard exit, said State Police Sgt. Philip Bourque of the Niagara barracks.
The car became airborne, crossed the median and landed on its roof on the southbound ramp of the expressway, he said.
Unterweger was sitting in his car in a parking lot near the exit ramp.
"I saw this car come flying across the expressway, and then a second later I saw the woman fly out, hit a railing and roll down the hill," he said Monday.
Unterweger, who joined the National Guard last month, sprang into action.
"I ran like hell to the ramp and saw flames coming from the car," he said.
As he ran toward the overturned car, he flagged down a truck driver to stop and help. Unterweger checked on the woman, who was lying on her side, apparently unconscious. The car, its engine still running and enveloped in smoke, was about 10 feet away.
"That's when I heard a baby crying from inside the car," Unterweger said.
He managed to put out most of the flames with his leather jacket and saw the child hanging upside down in a car seat in the rear. He clambered head first through the smashed front passenger window, turned off the engine and reached back toward the baby.
The truck driver had arrived and was trying to get to the baby through the car's broken rear window.
"The baby was caught in the car seat," Unterweger said. "I knew we had to get him out. There was a lot of smoke. It wasn't a safe situation."
State Police officers arrived within two or three minutes. Trooper Jill Pezzino poked a flashlight through the rear passenger window and knew what had to be done. She handed Unterweger a knife and told him to cut the car seat straps and free the baby.
Unterweger slashed through the binding straps and handed the youngster to another officer through the car window.
Police and paramedics took over from there.
Unterweger, whose father, Peter, is a retired Army officer, leaves in February for basic training in Missouri and said he hopes to see active duty.