CHARLOTTE — A driver was rescued from a burning SUV Thursday night after it crashed along the treeline on Interstate 485 near the South Boulevard exit.
[ALSO READ: Friends remember man killed in I-485 hit-and-run; troopers still seeking suspect]
As the fire spread, Brian Thomas and two other bystanders ran to the wooded area to pull the woman from the wreckage.
Thomas, a U.S. Army combat veteran, was close enough to hear the driver trapped inside, who was calling for help.
“She was screaming so hard it was really hard to make out what she was saying,” Thomas said.
He shattered the sunroof and climbed inside.
The physical trainer from Ballantyne said he cut the woman’s seat belt, but she was still stuck inside.
“Something in the engine compartment blew, and I jumped off the roof,” Thomas said. “And we all just headed into the woodline.”
Thomas said when they went back, the smoke was thicker, and the driver was struggling.
“This has to be it,” he said. “I got to get her out now.”
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The veteran, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he has never had to rescue someone from a car crash.
“I’ve been in combat,” Thomas said. “But that was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
Thomas said he went back to the fiery crash because he thought about the woman being his wife.
“I could not imagine somebody not being there to pull my wife out,” he said. “I really thought several times that I can lose my life trying to help someone.”
Melissa Latin was riding with Thomas, and recorded a video that showed smoke and flames coming from the flipped SUV.
“I (could) hear it popping,” Latin said. “With every pop, I was afraid that the car was just gonna blow up.”
Thomas managed to unbuckle the seat belt and help carry the driver from the flames.
The condition of the driver is not known.
(Watch the video below: I-485 outer down to one lane in south Charlotte after tractor-trailer crash )
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