Rescue Redux: Virginia Trooper Saves Man From Burning Car

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008

For the second time in a week, a Virginia state trooper has rescued a motorist from a burning car on Interstate 66 in Fairfax County, this time after a four-car crash yesterday that left a driver unconscious and his minivan in flames.

Trooper K.J. Brown, 28, is credited with saving the life of James R. Campbell, 72, of Arlington County, who police said had some sort of medical problem as he drove a Dodge Caravan west on I-66 about 11:50 a.m. While Brown was seated in his cruiser, writing a traffic ticket on the left shoulder of the highway, he saw the Caravan veer out of control and strike a Dodge Charger, setting off a chain reaction of collisions, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.

The Caravan careened over to the right side of the highway and into an embankment, then started burning. Brown and the motorist he had pulled over dashed to the minivan, Geller said, but the doors were jammed shut.

Brown used his retractable baton to smash out the Caravan's driver-side window and pulled Campbell out, Geller said. A Fairfax fire supervisor who came to the scene told Brown's sergeant that "if the trooper was not there, there's no way the man would have made it," Geller said.

Brown suffered cuts to his arm and smoke inhalation while rescuing Campbell. He was being treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital last night. He has been a trooper for four years. Campbell was listed in stable condition at Inova Fairfax, police said.

A Mercury sport-utility vehicle was struck and turned over twice before coming to rest upright, police said. A Buick LeSabre was also hit. The drivers of the Charger, the Mercury and the LeSabre were wearing seat belts and suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, Geller said.

Six days earlier, on the same stretch of westbound I-66, another trooper rescued another man from a burning car. In that accident, it was the trooper's car that burned, after an allegedly drunk driver smashed into it.

About 12:45 a.m. May 1, Trooper J.T. Mahalik was sitting in his cruiser, with his emergency lights on, talking to the driver of a pickup truck he had stopped on I-66 about a half-mile east of Route 50. Yesterday's crash occurred about two miles farther west, near the exit for northbound Route 28.

While Mahalik and Chad E. Roger-Steven, 24, were talking, a 2006 Saab slammed into the rear of the cruiser, immediately causing a fire in the rear of the cruiser. The impact knocked Roger-Steven unconscious, and Mahalik suffered spinal injuries and burns to his legs. But Mahalik staggered around to the passenger side and pulled Roger-Steven to safety before the cruiser was engulfed in flames, police said.

"His quick thinking and response ultimately saved his life and the person inside his car," Capt. Tracy Russillo said. Mahalik was hospitalized for several days and has since been released, Geller said.

David J. Stout, 34, of Centreville was identified as the Saab's driver. He was not injured, and he was charged with drunken driving.

"The fact that we've had two [rescues] happen within a week is probably a new record," Geller said. "Unfortunately, it's part of the job."

She noted that it was not unusual for troopers to witness crashes, because they spend so much time on the state's highways.

A state trooper was killed in 2006 when he was hit by a car whose driver had suffered a medical emergency, Geller said.

That no one died yesterday is miraculous, Geller said: "For Mr. Campbell, that somebody happened to be at that very spot, at that time, and that trooper was there, he's probably one very lucky individual."

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