Bysander EMT Pulls Suffocating Woman from Burning Car in Maine

PALMYRA, Maine – A Palmyra man saved a woman’s life when he pulled her badly injured body from her burning car Thursday morning after she lost control and hit a tree, according to police.

Laura Morgan of Hartland was recovering at Eastern Maine Medical Center on Thursday, according to Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Don Avery, but the outcome could have been much worse if not for the heroics of Chad Curtis, who cut Morgan’s seat belt and pulled her away from the fire.

“If he hadn’t cut her out, she would have died,” said Avery. “She would have burned up in the vehicle.”

Curtis said he arrived at his parents’ home at 84 Estes Ave. in Palmyra at about 6:30 a.m. to drop his son off for a day of fishing with the boy’s grandfather. The house was dark when Curtis arrived and his father, Norman Curtis, told him he’d just heard a pop and that the electricity went out.

“We thought maybe a transformer blew,” said Curtis, who was on his way to work as a guard supervisor at Charleston Correctional Facility at the time. “Then we saw smoke.”

Curtis and his father crossed the street and looked down a 20-foot embankment, where a 2004 Toyota Camry lay crashed against a tree and spewing smoke. Norman ran to call 911 and Chad skittered down the steep embankment.

“I could hear gasping and gurgling,” said Curtis. “It was a pretty bad sound.”

He found Morgan hanging out the driver’s side door against her seat belt, which was making it hard for her to breathe. There was smoke coming from the ruined front of the car, but no flames yet. Curtis unfastened the lower portion of the seat belt, but the upper portion, which operates separately from the lower belt, was still tangled around Morgan.

“She was in and out of consciousness,” he said. “I was focusing on trying to support her head and neck and talking with her. Then flames started bursting out of the hood.”

By that time, which was only a minute or two from when Curtis first reached the car, others had gathered on the road some 20 feet above the wreck. Curtis said someone – he doesn’t remember who – threw him a knife, which he used to cut the upper seat belt. He pulled Morgan from the car, which is when he saw her terribly injured legs.

“I knew it was bad and that she was in a lot of pain from being moved, but I knew that was the lesser of the two evils,” he said.

Curtis lowered Morgan from the burning car and dragged her about 75 feet away. Others jumped in to help move Morgan, cover her with a blanket and comfort her until an ambulance arrived. Within a couple of minutes the car was engulfed in flames.

“I’ve never been around a vehicle that got engulfed that quickly,” Curtis said. “I’ll be thinking about that for a long time.”

Because of the extent of Morgan’s injuries, a LifeFlight helicopter flew her to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Deputy Avery said Morgan’s tire tracks indicate that she drifted left across the oncoming lane and went off the road more than 300 feet before her car reached the tree. There was no evidence that Morgan touched either her brake or accelerator.

“At this point it’s unknown if she had a medical issue or if there was some other cause,” said Avery. “Alcohol, drugs and speed were not factors.” Avery said Morgan was in stable condition early Thursday afternoon.

An ambulance from Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield and a crew from the Hartland Volunteer Fire Department went to the scene of the accident. Central Maine Power restored electricity in the area, which was cut when Morgan’s car struck an anchor wire on a telephone pole.

Curtis, 35, a former policeman in Pittsfield who has worked for the Department of Corrections for the past 10 years, said he doesn’t see himself as a hero even though this wasn’t the first time he has stood between life and death for someone.

“When it’s going on you’re not looking at that,” he said. “You’re just being human. You’re doing what the next guy would do.”

Curtis said he was grateful to the Department of Corrections, which put him through first-responder emergency medical training.

“I’m very glad to have had that training, especially today,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I just hope she’s all right. That’s all I can think about right now.”

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