By Terry Richard
WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ore. — Off-duty Washington County Sheriff's corporal Cheryl Crecelius rescued two men from a burning vehicle after she arrived upon the scene Saturday night in rural Washington County near Gaston.
According to a report by the sheriff's office, a vehicle crashed at a high rate of speed and caught fire. Deputies were called to the scene at 8:11 p.m., at southwest Springhill Road, north of the intersection of southwest Laurelwood Road, east Gaston.
A 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee was northbound on Springhill Road traveling at a high speed when it crashed. The Jeep sped through a stop sign at Laurelwood Road then left the roadway, striking two drainage culverts and two trees before coming to rest. Two of three occupants were unconscious.
The Jeep crashed with enough forward force to separate the engine and transmission from the body. The transmission was launched 46 feet down the roadway from the vehicle.
The Jeep landed upright and began burning. Christian Bandmann, 23, who was seated in the rear, escaped from the right rear door.
After coming upon the scene, Crecelius saw that the driver and front passenger were unconscious as the fire began encroaching into the passenger area. She realized there was a short window to rescue them. The Jeep received extensive damage and the doors were jammed closed, except for the right rear.
Crecelius unfastened the seatbelt and pulled Jason Eaton, 25, from the front passenger seat backward through the right rear door as the Jeep filled with smoke. She placed him on the ground a safe distance from the fire that was rapidly consuming the vehicle. He was regaining consciousness as she raced to free the unconscious driver.
Crecelius unfastened driver Mark Vanbleck's seatbelt and attempted to pull him backward out of the same rear door. The fire had consumed the entire engine compartment and flames were breaching through the floorboard area as the smoke began thickening in the passenger area.
Vanbleck's legs were pinned between the dash and seat. Crecelius crawled out of the vehicle to get assistance. An unidentified man in his 20s stopped and helped by getting back into the burning vehicle with Crecelius. Together they freed Vanbleck from the vehicle moments before it was fully engulfed in flames. He remained unconscious until Gaston Fire Department personnel arrived and revived him.
Bandmann was transported to OHSU by Lifeflight, while Eaton and Vanbleck were transported by ground ambulance to a local hospital. All three men received non-life-threatening injuries.
Vanbleck was cited for DUII, reckless driving and two counts of fourth-degree assault. Additional charges are possible as the investigation continues.
Crecelius received a minor injury to her hand and suffered minor smoke inhalation. She is expected to make a full recovery.
Sheriff's deputies are searching for the unidentified man who assisted in saving Vanbleck from the burning wreckage.
The Washington County crash analysis reconstruction team responded to the scene to assist in the investigation. Forest Grove police also responded. Springhill Road was closed until after 1 a.m. to gather evidence and diagram the scene. Investigators believe alcohol and speed were factors in this crash. The investigation is ongoing.
Copyright 2014 The Oregonian
McClatchy-Tribune News Service