The man who pulled a 25-year-old woman from a burning car wreck in Naples Monday night said he doesn’t consider himself a hero — just an average guy who did the right thing.
Joseph Carruthers, the 27-year-old man who climbed into backseat of Alicia Szostak’s flipped, fiery Toyota Rav4, said he and his father, Kenneth Carruthers, raced to the crash scene from their home at 677 Harrison Road after they woke to the sound of squealing tires and a “strange, hollow, metal-y sound,” Joseph recounted.
After the rescue, which took about 15 minutes with the help of another stopped driver, Irvin Ward, the father and son returned home without providing their names to emergency responders, who arrived minutes later. In the days since, Joseph was dubbed an “unknown hero” by local media, until police found and identified him Wednesday.
“I don’t really feel like a hero. I feel like an everyday person that acted upon the circumstance,” the Sebago Metal Fab employee said Thursday.
“It just happened so quick, there was no time to think about anything,” he said, of hoisting his 6-foot, 2-inch, 230-pounds frame into the backseat of a tipped-over, burning vehicle.
Joseph and his father found the wreck after launching themselves out of bed to the sound of it happening, Joseph said.
They raced about 300 feet down their driveway to Route 35, and when they saw flames licking the the hood of an overturned car, Joseph said he had “a weird feeling” that someone was still in it.
He was right. Szostak was still in the driver’s seat. After she was rescued, she said she swerved her car to avoid a deer.
“I remember feeling it go up on two wheels,” she later told TV news station WGME.
Joseph immediately ran to the driver’s side window, saw Szostak, and asked, “Are you OK?” he said.
By then, a crowd of about six or seven people formed — neighbors and two people from a car witnessed the crash, he said. One of the neighbors handed Kenneth a fire extinguisher. Another, Darlene Lord, called 911, according to Capt. Scott Stewart of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.
While Kenneth sprayed the hood, Joseph made the quick decision to pry open the driver’s side back door and lift himself into Szostak’s backseat. Irvin Ward stood behind him and provided cover, Stewart added.
“I’m going to put your seat back, OK?” Joseph said he told Szostak, who was “freaking out but calm at the same time.”
He grabbed the lever to recline her seat, unsnapped her seatbelt, and grabbed her by the waist. Smoke hadn’t reached the inside of the cab, he remembered, though through the windshield, he could see his father fighting 8-foot flames “way taller than the car.”
Joseph pulled through Szostak from the back door, and placed her inside Ward’s vehicle, where Darlene Lord, the 911-caller, comforted her until an EMS vehicle arrived to take her to the hospital, Stewart said.
Then, Joseph and his father went home.
“I knew that she was OK and she was in good hands, so I had no reason to stay,” said Joseph, who hasn’t spoken to her, though she has said in a news report that she wants to thank him.
Szostak could not be reached for an immediate update on her condition Thursday morning.
When police came looking for Carruthers and his father at their home Wednesday, they only found Joseph’s girlfriend, Ashley Stall.
“He asked her if I knew that I was a hero,” Joseph said. “She told him what I told her, that I’m just an average person doing a thing anyone would do.”
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