Two good Samaritans who happened to be in the right place at the right time saved a baby from a fiery car crash. The men made a dramatic rescue right as the car burst into flames.
Anne Schindler, First Coast News - JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A fiery one-vehicle crash on Interstate 95 early Friday morning proved fatal for 31-year-old Lake City resident Daniel Dufek. But it could have been much worse.
There was a baby in the back seat.
Steven Hill, 45, of Dearborn, Mich., said if they had arrived a moment earlier, they would have missed the crash. A moment later, they'd have been too late.
"God put me there for a reason, put me and Jason there for a reason, obviously -- to save that little baby," Hill told First Coast News.
"Thank God, thank God," said Nelson. "It was like perfect timing." Hill and Jason Nelson, movers by trade, planned to go to sleep when they reached Jacksonville about 1 a.m. – but at the last minute, they decided to drop off the moving trailer at the client's, Suddath Relocation on Western Way.
Initially, the pair only saw a flame, which they thought was a small homeless encampment. As they drew near, they could tell – barely – that it was a vehicle.
The car left the interstate, Florida Highway Patrol says, "for unknown reasons," and tumbled, striking a tree trunk about 20 feet off the ground before bursting into flames.
"I go over to it and I look and I'm yelling, 'Sir, sir, sir -- are you OK?'" says Nelson. "Nothing. We didn't hear anything."
Both men say it was abundantly clear from looking at him that the driver was dead. But since the car was on fire, they wanted to pull him out. "I'd want my family to have a body for a funeral," Hill said.
It wasn't until the pair began unbuckling the driver that they spotted the child.
"Steve noticed there was a baby in backseat, and said, 'Oh my God, there's a baby.' At first we did not see the baby. The flames were up -- they were up."
"I just jumped back in, over the deceased father," recalled Hall. He said the flames "were completely around the baby's head."
He struggled with the restraint straps – eventually pulling so hard he was able to wrench them apart and lift the baby out, injuring his arm in the process. Within moments, both men told First Coast News, the gas tank exploded, and the backseat was engulfed in flames.
The baby was bleeding, and had been breathing smoke, but Hall said "she was cooing and crying a little bit." He held her, he said, "to let her know, 'I'm here – it's OK, baby.'"
Paramedics and police arrived moments later. The child was taken to UF Health early Friday morning where she was reported to be in critical condition. There was no update available Friday evening.
The two men were shaken, but says they could not have acted differently. "There was no way I was going to let a baby die, no way," said Hall. "I'd burn first for sure."
"I think it was the scariest moment of my life," admitted Nelson, "being that the baby was so little… We had to do something."
On Friday morning, the pair returned to work unloading their truck, eager to get back to Michigan for the holidays. Both say they'd like to hear how the baby does.
"I just hope she's OK, whether she does anything with her life," said Hall. "Hopefully she has children of her own that's all at least. You don't have be a president to be something special. You can be a mom and a grandma. That's special enough for me."
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