Rescue attempt leaves its mark Burned image suggests time running out

August 30, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The image branded into the pale flesh of Lee Brown's palm shows a watch at 3 o'clock.

That is the moment Mr. Brown grabbed the wrists of a man who had just been burned to death in a car wreck, a moment at the corner of White Avenue and Walther Avenue in Northeast Baltimore when he tried to save the life of a stranger.

To Mr. Brown -- who bears traces of the burn mark left by John A. Vogel's wristwatch a week after the Aug. 23 accident killed Mr. Vogel and a friend -- the blemish is not a symbol of heroism, but a reminder that time is running out.

"People try to mysticize it -- the time on my hand is the time the man died," said Mr. Brown, 28, who lives in an old farmhouse at White and Walther and was on the porch in the afternoon when two cars collided. "At 2:55 two friends were out for a drive and at 3 p.m. they were out in eternity. Time ran out for them."

The increase in seemingly minor transgressions like running a red light -- the probable cause of the crash that killed Mr. Vogel, 70, and his friend Albert Delorenzo, 83 -- has persuaded Mr. Brown that time is not long for the human race.

Mr. Brown, who operates a taxiservice for pets, says that where he once saw motorists racing through yellow lights he now sees five and six cars follow through red lights.

"Our disregard for laws shows that our disregard for life is increasing," he said. "I think people who try to beat a red light shows a decline in humanity -- mankind bent on self-destruction."

According to police, Mr. Vogel, who lived on Balfern Avenue, was giving Mr. Delorenzo -- a double-amputee below the knees who lived on Acton Road -- a ride in his 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood. The friends were traveling north on Walther Avenue when they collided in the intersection with a Toyota Camry driven west on White Avenue by Nikolaos Psironis, 59.

Investigators are uncertain which vehicle ran the light. Police said that Mr. Psironis, of the 400 block of Gusryan St., has refused to tell them what happened.

The Cadillac was sent spinning, and when its gas tank scraped the concrete median, it ruptured and the Fleetwood exploded. Mr. Vogel, already badly burned, was thrown from the car while Mr. Delorenzo was trapped inside.

Several residents rushed to the scene to help, including someone with a garden hose, another with a fire extinguisher and Lee Brown.

"I didn't have time to consider anything except I had to get this guy away from the car. The only thing that was left on him was part of one shoe, the waistband of his underwear, and the watch," he said. "I could feel the sting on my hand when I grabbed him. I thought he was still alive."

Mr. Brown's beliefs -- his view of the failed rescue as "trying to love my brother as I would love myself" -- are shaped by his Christian faith. When he was 13, he said, a man he worked for at a local pet store told him about Jesus and the experience changed his life.

The experience of trying to save someone who burned to death before his eyes, Mr. Brown said, has left a mark on his consciousness that will linger long after the imprint on his hand has faded.

"It's easy to think that we're going to be here forever, but when you witness something like that, it proves that life is just a vapor," he said. "It's just a mist that's here for a while and passes away."

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