Dr. Darren Caparaso believes he literally had the help of an angel when he pulled a 6-month-old infant girl from a burning car last July at a horrific accident scene in the town of West Seneca.
Caparaso, a family doctor with the Buffalo Medical Group, was one of several heroes recognized Friday evening at the 100 Club's annual Hero Awards dinner at the Park Country Club in Amherst.
Like others who have put their own lives in peril to make life-saving efforts for others often do, Caparaso insists that he's no hero.
But he says he knows who is.
"I really believe my footprints were ordered by the Lord," Caparaso said. "I believe he wanted me to be there."
Caparaso was on his way to his Elma home July 19, 2011, after a day of caring for patients when he stopped to refuel his car, which was low on gas. He attempted unsuccessfully to use his trusted and valid credit card at three separate pumps and watched quizzingly as other motorists were able to use their cards. Baffled, Caparaso headed back to the road.
The doctor -- and father of four daughters himself -- says that delay at the gas station put him first on the scene moments after a 24-year-old mother's old-model Buick was struck by an oncoming vehicle at Leydecker Road and Southwestern Boulevard. Her vehicle flipped over three times before coming to rest in a ditch nearby. Debris littered the roadway.
"I said, 'Lord, help these people,' " Caparaso said as he got out of his car and headed toward the wreckage along with the owner and two employees of nearby Luke's Collision. The female driver was already out but her child was stuck inside her car seat, which had been wedged in the flattened Buick. Several attempts by the civilians to flip the car back over by hand and pull open the rear door to reach the baby failed.
Then, the gas tank caught fire.
"I don't know where the guy came from or where he went," Caparaso says of another man who came to his aid, smashing one of the vehicle's windows with a tire iron and releasing the uninjured baby from her car seat. That enabled Caparaso to pull the baby to safety and run away from the fire.
The other "hero" -- described by witnesses to be a pickup truck driver -- then doused the flames with a fire extinguisher before disappearing from the scene in his truck, never to resurface.
Meanwhile, Caparaso cradled the baby until emergency crews arrived.
"I must have kissed her 100 times like it was my own baby," Caparaso remembered Friday, quoting the Hebrew passage about remembering to help strangers "for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." He believes his unidentified accomplice was "an angel."
"This is a story of God's glory," insists Caparaso, a member of Crossroads Christian Church in East Aurora, who attended Friday's banquet with his wife, Joy, four daughters -- Kara, Shawna, Marina and Laina -- and his father, Frank, a 35-year police officer in Depew.
Caparaso was the civilian Hero Award honoree at the 100 Club awards dinner. Other Hero Awards recipients included: Buffalo Firefighter Gino Gatti of Buffalo; Buffalo Police Officer Paul Sobkowiak of Buffalo; Erie County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Weiss of Lancaster; and Niagara County Sheriff's Deputies Jonathan Andres and Shawn Grapes of North Tonawanda.
Andres and Grapes were presented with their awards by the man whose life they saved just a day before Caparaso's bravery -- that of fellow Niagara County Sheriff's Deputy Allen Gerhardt.
Transit Police Officer James DeLacy of Elma was awarded the organization's newest honor, the Outstanding Service Award.
The 100 Club is a 55-year-old organization dedicated to providing cash assistance to families of police officers killed in the line of duty. Its mission has also come to include providing scholarships and other assistance to first responders -- police, fire and emergency medical personnel -- across Western New York.
For further details about the 100 Club's award winners, visit the organization's website at: http://www.100clubbuffalo.org/hero-awards.html.