3 honored for rescuing man from fire

February 28, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Four days after they pulled a motorist from a burning car on Interstate 95 in Elkridge, a mechanic, his helper and a ventilation service technician received awards for their bravery.

Had it not been for the men he called Good Samaritans, "it would have been too late," Howard County Fire and Rescue Services Battalion Chief Donald R. Howell said. "We are certainly crediting these people with risking their own safety to save his life."

Thomas Burks, 41, of Essex; William Zinkhan, 19, of Parkville; and William J. Morrissett IV, 21, of Westminster, received Howard County Fire and Rescue Services' "Gift of Life" award and a Governor's Citation Award Friday afternoon in the Statehouse in Annapolis.

The man they saved on Feb. 22, Wilbur Whitehurst, 24, was unable to attend the awards ceremony. He's still listed in critical condition at the Francis Scott Key Medical Center in Baltimore, where he was taken for treatment of second-degree burns and a broken pelvis, authorities said.

"The governor saw this in the paper and was very impressed, and thought, 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice to do something for someone who did something for someone else,' " said Patrick Pannella of the governor's public relations office.

The county's "Gift of Life" award is given once a year to people who save lives, Mr. Howell said.

Mr. Whitehurst was injured when a United Parcel Service truck rear-ended his disabled Ford LTD on foggy I-95, near Route 100. The collision ruptured one of the vehicle's gas tanks and ignited a fire, authorities said. The UPS truck driver, Ray Fox, 32, of Westminster, was not injured. He was charged with failure to reduce speed to avoid a collision.

After witnessing the collision, Mr. Morrissett said he was asking the truck driver if he was injured when "I heard someone (Mr. Whitehurst) yelling, and saw a foot sticking out the door and realized someone was in [the car]."

Simultaneously, he and Mr. Zinkhan ran and pulled the Ford's door open. Then, all three dragged the driver to safety, he said.

The rescuers rolled Mr. Whitehurst into the snow to extinguish his burning clothes, authorities said.

"It was just something that had to be done," Mr. Burks said before the awards ceremony Friday. "You couldn't just sit there and watch the guy burn."

First reports credited Mr. Burks and Mr. Zinkhan for saving Mr. Whitehurst's life. But later, investigators learned Mr. Morrissett helped save the burning man, too.

One reason he may not have been acknowledged earlier was because he left the scene to go to his job as a service technician for a Woodlawn heating and air conditioning firm. "I was on company time," Mr. Morrissett said.

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