As previously reported by Town and Country - Manchester Patch, After numerous emails from Patch readers, we've learned more about what happened that night and why residents are hailing Officer Gerad Gonzalez of Fenton a "hero."
It was all caught on the Manchester police dash cam video included in this article. You'll see and hear Gonzalez and a passerby risking their lives to save a man from a burning car, fire crews battling the blaze and a woman coping with nearly burning alive.
As it turns out, at the time of the crash, Gonzalez who is a 16-year-veteran of law enforcement, was on routine patrol in the area and just turning onto Carman Road when a passerby stopped him and told him the accident had just happened. Gonzalez, 36, tells Patch he headed for the crash and pulled up to find the two vehicles involved, a Chevy Tahoe and Chevy Blazer, both on fire. He estimates the Blazer was fully engulfed in nearly 50 foot flames.
He said his initial thought was the severity of the situation.
"No one's going to survive. Whoever's in those cars is in trouble, a lot of trouble and I need to get them out and I need to get them out now because I know these cars are going to explode," Gonzalez recalls. "As I was rushing towards the accident I could see a large man sitting inside. I could see him and I just knew I needed to get him out and check for other occupants."
Gonzalez is seen running in the video to the burning Tahoe. He said he climbed into the passenger side and was able to pull the driver over the console. Then, with the help of a good samaritan who stopped at the crash scene, identified by police as Joe Caruso from Des Peres, the unconscious driver was pulled from the Tahoe and dragged away from the burning wreckage. This is all caught on tape.
"After we dragged him, the car was popping. You could just hear the glass popping. We thought the gas tank exploded," Gonzalez tells Patch. He said he could hear the tires pop and he knew they needed to move away from the car more quickly.
"We need to hurry or else we could all catch fire," he told Caruso.
The Tahoe driver was later taken to the hospital by crews who tell Patch his injuries were listed as "moderate." Gonzalez said at the time it was obvious the man had sustained a head injury and there was a lot of blood, so he was very concerned for the man's well-being.
"I thought he was dead. When I pulled him out I thought he was deceased," Gonzalez tells Patch. "He was out. He was unconscious. He was non-responsive."
Meanwhile, during the rescue of the Tahoe driver, the female driver of the Blazer made it out of her vehicle just before it exploded.
"After rescuing the driver, I was informed there was an injured female occupying the Blazer and she had escaped just before it burst into flames. I located her walking away from the scene in a daze. She had a bump/cut on her forehead and was bleeding. I walked her over to my police car and sat her down," Gonzalez stated in a synopsis of the events.
He said a woman who described herself as a nurse approached them and helped treat and evaluate the female driver prior to fire and EMS crews arriving on the scene.
"I almost burned alive in there," the woman driver says in the dash cam video. Although you don't see her, you can hear Gonzalez and the nurse trying to help and calm her.
You also then see fire crews arriving on scene and tackling the fire.
"It probably took 10 to 15 minutes to get those cars, to hose them down and get the fire off them," Gonzalez said as he described the severity of the blaze fire crews were battling.
The female driver was later taken to the hospital by Des Peres ambulance crews.
Investigators believe the driver of the Tahoe hit the Blazer from behind while it was stopped at a red light on Dougherty Ferry, igniting the gas tank.
"He was going so fast he then hit the utility pole, the electric signal pole, and knocked it down," Gonzalez tells Patch. "The blazer just went up in flames when he hit it."
The identities and conditions of the two drivers are not being released, but Gonzalez said it's really a miracle that the night didn't end with a worse outcome.
"I think after it was all said and done, I thought, 'Man, myself and Caruso and those drivers are lucky to be alive,'" Gonzalez explained. "I was just so thankful that we got him out before the car blew. We were really fortunate to get out of there like we did."
He said he's never been involved in a rescue of that magnitude in his career, "Not this horrific because of the fire."
He also tells Patch he's never been so grateful to a passerby who risked his life to save another. Gonzalez said what really stands out to him now is how Caruso told him he was a hero after they worked together to make the rescue.
"I said to him, 'I'm not the hero, I'm a police officer. You're the hero for stopping and coming over and helping me pull a man out of a burning car,'" Gonzalez tells Patch. "That stays in my heart. He did not have to stop and help me."
Now, Gonzalez said he would like to find Caruso and thank him for risking his life that night.
"I need to find out more about this guy because he deserves something," Gonzalez explained.
*EDITOR'S NOTE: As mentioned at the top of this article, it was Patch readers who brought the efforts of Officer Gonzalez to the attention of Patch with their emails crediting him for saving a life that night. Be sure to check back to Patch Monday to read the kind words residents are sharing with Patch.