Four who saved man from burning vehicle honored as heroes

Posted July 08, 2010, at 11:41 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Four people who contributed to saving the life of a man trapped in his burning vehicle in June at a gas station in Harrington were honored as heroes Thursday by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.

Raelea Merchant, a station employee who quickly turned off the power to the gas pumps, and Nicholas Graham, Terrance Grant, Branden Lovejoy and Mark Schoppee, who pulled the victim out of his truck, received letters of commendation and inscribed plaques from Sheriff Donnie Smith.

Schoppee was unable to attend the event, which took place at a Washington County commissioners meeting, but the rest were on hand to hear the victim of the crash praise their efforts.

“Thank you for everything you did. In another minute or two, I wouldn’t be speaking to you now,” said Gardiner Crabtree, 62, of Hancock. “I owe you my life.”

On June 7, Crabtree apparently suffered a medical emergency while driving a medical supply delivery truck at the Circle K station on Route 1. The truck shot forward, crashed into a gas pump and set off several explosions that set fire to the vehicle and the pump.

The four men who were honored worked together to free Crabtree from the burning truck. Merchant rushed outside with a fire extinguisher to assist.

Crabtree said Thursday that he has nearly recovered from his injuries.

On the day of the accident, Lovejoy, who had been inside the station’s convenience store at the time of the crash, told the Bangor Daily News, “There were two big explosions. [Crabtree] was tangled up in the steering wheel. Mark grabbed his belt, I grabbed his feet, and Nick got his hands and we lugged him out to the side.

“There was fire all around him, but you could see he was still alive,” he said. “We just wanted to get him out. I guess I’d want him or someone to do the same for me.”

Grant and Merchant both suffered smoke inhalation and were hospitalized overnight for observation.

It took fire crews from Columbia, Columbia Falls, Addison, Cherryfield and Milbridge nearly an hour to bring the blaze under control.

Smith said during the award presentation that law enforcement officers are expected to respond to emergencies such as this “but for everyday citizens to put their lives on the line to save another human being gives us great faith.”

Smith said he “felt privileged to stand here and give these awards.”

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