A late-night rescue from a a mangled pickup truck

November 15, 2006|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

It was one of those loud thumps that made Paul Cross think the boys had knocked over the television. His girlfriend instinctively knew otherwise.

Peering out of her bedroom window late at night onto Route 99, Donna West saw orange flames leaping from a mangled pickup truck. "Paul, there's a car on fire in our front yard," she said.

Cross laced up his sneakers and ran to the scene -- a decision that would save the 18-year-old driver's life.

Cross found Eric Jason O'Brien Jr. of Woodstock unconscious, his torso dangling from his burning 1987 Ford F-150 at Route 99 and Raleigh Tavern Lane. Two passers-by were struggling to pull the lanky teenager from the pickup truck by his shoulders.

Flames flared from under the hood and the truck bed. The air smelled of burnt rubber and gasoline as white plumes of smoke disappeared into the night. The wooden telephone poll was leaning, and the flames had dangerously weakened one of West's 20-year-old white pine trees.

The impact had launched O'Brien's tools, cell phone and other belongings all over the yard and shattered his windshield, coating his legs in tiny pieces of glass. The truck was so charred that West couldn't discern its color.

"Guys, let me give you a hand," the 63-year-old Cross said. He leaned into the truck and wrapped his arms around O'Brien's hips and legs as the other two men lifted his shoulders.

"By the time we got him out and to the sidewalk, the fire was going pretty good," said Cross, of Collegeville, Pa., explaining that O'Brien's "dead weight" was "extremely difficult" to maneuver. "The whole truck was engulfed, and it hadn't been more than a couple of minutes."

Cross, who is retired and spends the weekend's at West's home, monitored O'Brien's pulse and breathing until Howard County firefighters arrived.

"A couple of times, he did sort of open his eyes a little bit," said Cross, who led the emergency response team at his former company and is trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. "I started to concentrate on him, and the other guys were just kind of gone. I have no idea where they went. They did their good deed and left."

O'Brien, who was headed home on westbound Route 99 from a friend's house in Elkridge, suffered two broken vertebrae in the single-car crash at 11:15 p.m. Nov. 5. He said last week that he does not remember the crash, but has been told that Cross saved his life.

O'Brien was home and walking this week.

"If it were not for my mother telling me to stay in the house, I'd probably be out working," said O'Brien, who added that he has only minor neck pain when he goes to sleep.

Last week, he dropped by West's house and thanked her, but has not met Cross.

O'Brien, who graduated from Mount Hebron High School this year, also said that he understood how lucky he is. His former classmate, 18-year-old Michele Iampieri, died in an accident this year about 100 feet from the site of his crash.

A spokeswoman for Howard County police said that O'Brien's accident remains under investigation.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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