Nicole Gaudiano, Staff Writer March 19, 2001, Monday Copyright 2001 North Jersey Media Group Inc. The Record (Bergen County, NJ) March 19, 2001, Monday; All Editions
(BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.) -- With flames lapping against the car's windshield and an unconscious man inside, Police Officer Luis Torres had little time to think Sunday morning.
He turned to North Street resident Marquis Lawrence, 19, and together they lifted the victim through an open window as the flames raged on the Dodge's hood 2 feet away.
"The door, we couldn't yank it open," Torres said. "I said, 'We're going to pull him out of the window no matter what. I grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and we both pulled him out. It was something you don't have time to think about."
The victim, Michael Fussell, 20, of Teaneck, was listed in fair condition Sunday afternoon at Hackensack University Medical Center where he was being treated for internal injuries. Police said he took the brunt of the impact in a two-vehicle collision on River Road about 11:30a.m. His injuries appeared serious, but could have been worse, firefighters said.
"The fire melted the windshield," said Teaneck Fire Department Lt.
Lad Bell. "If they didn't do what they did, he probably would have been burned. There's no doubt in my mind."
Fussell was a passenger in a 1996 Dodge Neon, driven by Marissa Whiting, 20, of Bear, Del., 1 and they were traveling south on River Road, said Teaneck police Lt. Norman Levine.
Police believe Whiting was attempting to turn left onto North Street when a northbound Ford Explorer, driven by Kenneth Beale, 30, of Teaneck, slammed into the Neon's front passenger side where Fussell was sitting.
The Neon spun around and caught fire beneath the hood from the impact, police said.
Whiting escaped the car with an injured leg, and was treated at Holy Name Hospital and released. Beale suffered minor injuries.
But Fussell remained trapped in the car unconscious, police said.
Lawrence was inside his nearby house gathering his bags to leave for college in Columbia, S.C., when he heard the crash and ran toward the car, said his grandmother, Sarah Ross. He came back to call 911 and ran outside to help.
"I heard him say, 'Oh, my God, "Ross said. "He went running."
Whiting and Fussell are two of his friends, she said, but she wasn't sure if they were on their way to his house. Lawrence remained at the hospital Sunday afternoon, postponing his plans to return to Benedict College.
Firefighters arrived about a minute after Torres and saw the plume of smoke from the burning car.
"As we got closer, we saw two people pulling someone out of a car," Bell said. "It was like a scene out of an action movie."
Torres, a 23-year department veteran, said Fussell was limp and bleeding from the nose.
At first, he worried about moving Fussell in case he had a back injury. Looking at the encroaching flames, he made his decision within seconds. After they got him out, they were able to walk him to a curb to await the ambulance.
"It all happened so quickly," he said. "It's not one of those things you sit and analyze too long."