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Samaritan rescues car from fire in parking lot at restaurant Owner describes action as 'a beautiful thing'

If you have any doubts that a few good Samaritans still can be found, consider what happened Friday morning in the McDonald's parking lot at Jefferson Avenue and William Street.

Sometime before 11 a.m., the owner of a black Chevy Blazer pulled into a parking space and walked into the restaurant.

The next thing he knew, smoke was pouring from his vehicle.

"It was possibly something electrical," Buffalo Fire Chief James LaMacchia reported. "He said he was having a problem with the radio."

In the restaurant, customers and employees scrambled to determine who owned the vehicle and whether anyone remained inside. It turned out to be empty.

Employees rushed out with a fire extinguisher, but by then flames had begun to engulf the vehicle. Those parked near the burning Blazer started worrying about their own vehicles.

"We all decided we better move our cars," said Lori Tschohl, the McDonald's owner, whose Ford Expedition was parked two spots from the fire.

Terry Hall's red 1994 Buick was parked right next to the Blazer ablaze.

"Terry, aren't you going to move your car?" Tschohl asked Hall, a maintenance worker at the restaurant.

"I'm not doing it," Hall told her.

"I felt the fire was a little too intense," Hall said later. "So I just said, 'I'll let it go.' "

"Gimme the keys! Gimme the keys!" said the good Samaritan, who had been watching what was happening.

Hall flipped him the keys, and the man dashed toward the red Buick. He jumped into the car, started it up and peeled away from the fire.

Then, after leaving the car running a safe distance away, the mystery man vanished.

"It was a beautiful thing, a beautiful thing," Hall said. "Very brave and courageous."

"I thought it was absolutely amazing," Tschohl said. "He didn't even think twice about it. If he would have left it there, I'm sure our maintenance guy would have lost his car."

A search of the plaza at Jefferson and William turned up the good Samaritan: Robert Johnson, a Buffalo native and bounty hunter now living in Charlotte, N.C.

Johnson, who was visiting in Buffalo this week, said he had noticed smoke while driving along Jefferson.

He stopped to check it out, then watched as all the cars but one were moved.

"His car was right next to it," he said of Hall. "If that thing explodes, you got two cars engulfed." So he moved it.

"I'm a bounty hunter, so that's just part of life, I guess," Johnson said with a laugh. "It didn't seem that dangerous at the time."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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