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‘I can’t believe I’m alive’: A 75-year-old recalls horrifying day trapped in a hot car

(iStock) (Kichigin/iStock)

Locked inside his luxury roadster, Peter Pyros thought he was going to die.

Feeling more sweat and steam than fresh air to breathe, he said he scribbled a note so loved ones would not think he committed suicide. "This is a terrible death," he said he wrote. "I can't get out of the car."

The 75-year-old said he became trapped in his 2006 Cadillac XLR last month in Cleveland's 70-degree heat when the vehicle's key fob malfunctioned.

And for nearly 14 excruciating hours, he was a prisoner in his car, he said.

"It was the most horrifying experience you can imagine," he said Monday in a phone interview with The Washington Post. "I accepted, at some point, that this is how I'm going to die."

She stopped to pump gas and heard the door lock. Then her 1-year-old started to cry and sweat.

Pyros said he rarely drives his Cadillac, but with winter weather just around the corner, he thought he should run the engine and perhaps drive it in the neighborhood. He said he went out to his garage to start the car about 10 a.m. Aug. 31, then planned to walk back in the house and change clothes before taking it for a spin. He didn't take his cellphone with him, he said, and he didn't tell anyone what he was doing. He didn't think he needed to.

Pyros said he tried to start the engine but nothing happened. Then, he said, he tried to open the doors and realized they wouldn't budge.

He got nervous.

Pyros said he replaced the batteries in the fob, but it still did not work. He tried again — flipping the batteries upside down, then back around the other way. Still nothing. After about 30 minutes, he said, he was starting to sweat and having a hard time catching his breath.

"It's like you're in a safe and you don't know how to get out of it," he said, noting that he was struggling to breathe as he recalled the events.

Pyros said he had no tools or sharp objects in the vehicle, so he tried to punch out the window with his fist. When that didn't work, he said, he tried to kick out the glass with both of his feet. Nothing.

He said he pressed his mouth to the door and screamed for help. Nothing.

It was hot and Pyros was pouring sweat. Soon, the windows had fogged over. Pyros said thoughts raced through his head.

During those nearly 14 agonizing hours, Pyros, who was struggling to breathe, passed out twice, he said. Each time he woke up, he said, he thought to himself, "I can't believe I'm in this situation." He was a 75-year-old man locked inside his own car, pleading, passing out and when he needed to, urinating inside his shoes.

He said he prayed twice for a miracle. Still nothing. Then, at one point, he said, he accepted it, telling God, "This is the way I'm going to die."

Suddenly, he said, he was calm.

"I was at ease with that," he said.

Although Pyros didn't know it, he said, his neighbor heard him pounding and sent him a text message. When the neighbor didn't get a response, Pyros said, the neighbor hopped the fence and noticed that Pyros's garage door was open. Pyros's car was parked there — and Pyros was locked inside.

His neighbor called 911, Pyros said, and it took quite a while for firefighters to try to free him. When the firefighters could not open the door, Pyros said, they had him pop the hood and jumped the engine.

"They couldn't believe I was alive," Pyros said about the first responders. Officials with the Cleveland fire department did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the incident.

Pyros said that he was treated at a hospital and released.

GM said in a statement Monday that "any vehicle or key fob can lose power" and "that risk can increase as the vehicle ages."

"Manufacturers provide a way to manually unlock the doors if the vehicle or fob loses power," it said. "Because this varies by make and model, drivers should review the Door Lock section of their owner’s manual so they will know what to do.

"In the case of the XLR, there is a door release handle located on the floor, next to each seat."

Pyros said he did not know there was a door release handle and, even if he had thought to read the owner's manual, it was too steamy in the car to see it.

More than a week later, Pyros said he was still struggling with what happened — waking up numerous times in the night, thinking that he is still trapped in his car. "I can't believe I'm alive," he said.

When asked whether he plans to take legal action, Pyros said he does not know; he said his current goal is to warn others so that they may avoid a similar situation.

"I wouldn't want my worse enemy to go through what I went through," he said. "Now I think of babies, small children dying in a car like that. You're dying a slow death."

"If I can save one life," he added, "that's my goal."

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