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HERO Tow Truck Driver - 12.26.20 (NY)


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Tow truck driver, strangers work together to pull woman, man from burning car in Syracuse


Syracuse, N.Y. — Scott Swank parked his AAA flatbed tow truck near the old train station on Erie Boulevard East in Syracuse as he waited for his next call Saturday morning.


Swank looked up when he heard a car speed past him. It was going so fast that when it hit a bump he saw small sparks fly as it bottomed out on the street.


“The car fishtailed and went to the passenger side, and took out the utility pole,” Swank said. “When it hit the pole, I saw the car start rolling.”


The car flipped at least once on Erie Boulevard East near University Avenue just before 11 a.m. Saturday. Swank said he called his supervisor on a portable radio to call for police and firefighters. He then drove quickly over to the wrecked car.


wank and several other Good Samaritans for several minutes worked to try to save two people in the burning car, Aeriel Freeman, 29, and Tyshawn East, 24.


Swank said he first pulled Freeman out of the car, and put her on the ground where a woman patted out flames on Freeman’s pant leg as she lay unconscious.


Several minutes later, they were able to get East out of the car too.


About three to five seconds after they pulled East out of the car there was a loud “boom” and fire shot from the car, according to several witness accounts.


East later died at Upstate University Hospital from his injuries, Syracuse police said. Freeman remained in critical condition Sunday night.


Swank, a tow truck driver for the past decade and a volunteer firefighter for 15 years, and others told Syracuse.com 5/8 The Post-Standard what they saw and did to try to save Freeman and East.


Swank, 44, of Phoenix, was the first on scene and immediately saw the passenger’s side of the car and engine compartment on fire.


“I seen the flames coming from the passenger’s side looking in,” said Swank, a former Cicero and South Bay volunteer firefighter who recently joined the Phoenix fire department.


But he couldn’t get to the passenger’s side of the car because it was up against a concrete loading dock. Swank tried to open the driver’s side door, but it was locked.


Swank said he tried punching out the front driver’s side window, but it wouldn’t break. He quickly ran back to his tow truck and grabbed a tool he uses to remove tires, and smashed open the driver’s side window.

The woman in the driver’s seat was unconscious, Swank said.


Swank used his pocket knife to cut the driver’s seat belt. He could see Freeman’s pants were on fire. He was able to pull her out of the car. He said her hair appeared singed from the heat and she wasn’t moving.


A woman nearby helped by patting out the flames on Freeman’s pants, while Swank went back to help East who was still trapped in the car.


Somehow, from the highway above Erie Boulevard East, a 12-year-old girl looking out a car window on Interstate 690 East saw the burning car. Brylliyah Grimmage told her mother and grandmother who were in the car that she saw someone trying to pull a person out of the car.


The girl’s mother, Arielle Grimmage, 31, and grandmother, Kim Singleton, 53, almost didn’t believe what she had just told them. But Grimmage, a licensed practical nurse, and Singleton, an unemployed personal care assistant, knew if someone was in trouble, they needed to help.


Grimmage turned off I-690 to Teal Avenue, onto Erie Boulevard. They took an educated guess at which direction to head and quickly realized something wasn’t right ahead when they saw a large, black cloud of smoke.


Grimmage told her children to stay in their car, and she and her mother ran out to help. Grimmage ran to help the other woman already by Freeman’s side while Singleton ran to the car to help two men — Swank and an older man — as they tried to get East out of the car.


Swank said he gave his pocket knife to the other man, who kneeled inside the car and tried to cut the seat belt off East while Swank ran back to his tow truck to get a fire extinguisher.


“Flames were coming from underneath the car, toward us,” Swank said.


Just then, a man ran across the street from Valvoline Instant Oil Change on Erie Boulevard East and handed Swank a much larger fire extinguisher. Swank used it to spray the flames coming from the bottom and front passenger’s side of the car.


The other man, meanwhile, was able to cut the shoulder belt off the passenger. But East was still trapped in the front seat because his lap belt was still attached and the dashboard was on his legs.


Singleton said she helped Swank and the other man pull East’s legs over to the driver’s side. Swank and Singleton said they both then grabbed East’s right arm, while the other man grabbed East’s left arm. Together, they were able to pull East out of the car.


Within seconds, a loud boom sounded and fire shot from the car.


East didn’t appear to be burned and he was able to tell Singleton and Grimmage that he was in pain. They tried to comfort him as he rolled from his stomach to his back on the sidewalk.


“I held his hand and rubbed his hair to let him know he was not alone...,” Singleton said.


Both Singleton and Grimmage said East squeezed their hands, and they did what they could to comfort both East and Freeman.


“I was asking her if she was ok, but she was unresponsive,” Grimmage said. “I told her help was on the way.”

Police and firefighters arrived soon after.


There was a second boom and then a third. Singleton helped a police officer move East away from the car; someone else moved Freeman.


As soon as the ambulances arrived, EMTs put oxygen on Freeman, cut off both victim’s cloths and covered them with a blanket before putting them onto a stretcher and into the ambulance, witnesses said.


Medics at the scene also evaluated some of the Good Samaritans. Grimmage said she fell three times because it was icy and she was in shock, but she’s ok.


Swank said he is ok, but his hand is swollen from trying to punch out the window. He also said the left bottom leg of his Carhart bib overalls and the toe of his left boot melted, and the left side of his beard was singed from the heat.


Swank said he often witnesses the aftermath of crashes both as a tow truck driver and a volunteer firefighter and has been in similar situations.


But after this weekend’s fiery crash, Swank said he thinks more can be done to help crash victims. Swank said he plans to reach out to local businesses with hopes of getting donations to equip every AAA tow truck with seat belt cutters and window punch tools that can quickly break car windows in the event something like this happens again.


“It was definitely nerve wrecking having people trapped in a car and knowing if you don’t get them out something bad would happen,” he said.


Singleton agreed.


“If it wasn’t for him (Swank), it could have been worse,” she said. “In a few more seconds, no one would have gotten out.”



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This happened not all that far from me. I am up there frequently and know the area where this happened. There are quite a few high speed wrecks there every year. 

Although I dont know this operator, I hope that I cross paths with him in the near future so I may shake his hand. 

Operator Swank demonstrated the true meaning of "In service to others before ones self".

This Tragic accident would have had a much worse outcome if not for his heroics.

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With all the bad going on this year, it is nice to hear a story about people helping others. Sad to hear that someone didn't make it, but it easily could have been worse. If everyone was willing to help however they can when needed, the world would be a much better place.  Thoughts,  and prayers for the deceased/injured people.  And a Big Thank You to those who helped in a time of need. 

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