An elderly man continues to recover but is still alive thanks to the heroic actions of three Barnegat Township Police officers.
Investigators say an 86-year-old man somehow lost control of his vehicle and crashed it into trees along Route 72 in Barnegat Township on Friday. The car caught fire as the victim remained trapped inside.
Barnegat Township Police Officers Andrew Parsley, George Martin and Nicholas Venuto arrived at the scene.
“It was a definite sense of urgency,” said Ptl. Parsley. “We realized that this was a bad situation.”
“It was tough to see in there,” said Ptl. Venuto. “There were flames inside the vehicle, flames over the vehicle and flames around us.”
Officials say the victim’s foot was still on the accelerator as he was trapped inside. The spinning tires showered debris on the officers.
“It really wasn’t an option for me to let that individual stay in that car and burn,” said Ptl. Martin.
Martin smashed a window and unbuckled the man’s seat belt, suffering second degree burns on his arms in the process.
During the rescue, which was captured on police video, investigators say the victim kept a firm grip on the steering wheel and refused to let go. The officers finally managed to pull him out through the driver’s side window.
“He was a little disoriented,” said Ptl. Venuto. “He was struggling a little bit.”
After enduring the fire, smoke and heat for nearly two minutes, the officers carried the man away from the car. Meanwhile, a witness ran to get her inhaler for Officer Venuto, who was doubled over from breathing so much smoke. Venuto suffered from smoke inhalation but tells NBC10 the inhaler helped him greatly.
The victim was taken to the hospital where he is recovering from severe burns and other injuries. Police believe a medical problem may have led to the crash.
The officers say they didn’t have time to get nervous and never thought about their own safety. That changed however after they played back the police video.
"We were able to save his life," said Ptl. Parsley. "So we couldn't ask for a better outcome."