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A nick-of-time rescue from a fireball With seconds to spare, Hamburg officers pull driver out of car on fire following crash

It's a scene replayed hundreds of times on television and in the movies: One car slams into another, causing a large explosion and fireball.

But reel life in Hollywood took a back seat to real life in Hamburg late Sunday night for a town man and two police lieutenants who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

"Another 10 seconds -- maybe 5 seconds -- inside the car, he would have not made it out," Lt. Michael C. Lavelle said about David A. Morga, 45.

Morga, heading south on Camp Road at about 10:10 p.m., was stopped at a red light at Southwestern Boulevard when a pickup truck with an alleged drunken driver at the wheel slammed into the back of his car and pushed it through the intersection, leaving a 30-foot trail of gasoline. The gasoline ignited and raced underneath Morga's car, which exploded into flames.

Lavelle, whose afternoon shift was ending, and fellow Lt. Peter Dienes, starting his overnight shift, were headed west on Route 20 approaching the intersection when the crash occurred. Morga was trapped inside, and his clothes were on fire.

"I got the door opened a couple of times, and I tried to get in, but it was just a wall of flame," Lavelle said. "I couldn't even see him inside there."

Seconds later, Lavelle saw Morga poking out one of his feet, and he and Dienes pulled Morga from the burning car. "His clothes were all burned off," Lavelle said. "He was sitting in a ball of fire maybe 15 to 20 seconds."

The lieutenants were able to put out the flames on Morga. When they turned him over, he asked them, "How bad am I?" Lavelle said.

Morga was rushed to Erie County Medical Center with burns to 30 percent of his body. He was put into a medically induced coma at ECMC and was listed in critical condition late Monday.

Lavelle and Dienes suffered minor injuries and remained on duty.

Lavelle downplayed his role as a hero when reached at work Monday evening.

"We were just in the right place at the right time," he said. "I'm sure every cop in our department would have done the same thing."

The driver of the pickup truck, James Brand, 26, of Hamburg, was charged with driving while intoxicated and vehicular assault, police said. Brand, according to police, suffered only minor injuries.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com and lmichel@buffnews.com

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