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Neighbors to the rescue

Crash victim survives thanks to Samaritans

Onlookers watch as a car goes up in flames on North Woodstock Road Saturday. The occupant of the car was extracted by three citizens just moments before flames consumed the entire passenger compartment. Courtesy photo/Nicholas Wood. (click for larger version)
July 19, 2009


SOUTHBRIDGE — Seconds after receiving a call reporting an erratic driver on North Woodstock Road early Saturday evening, police responded to an accident on that very road that could have had a far worse outcome had it not been for three heroic citizens.

Shortly after 5:30 p.m., Nicholas Wood, a North Woodstock Road resident, was enjoying a quiet evening with his family when he was pulled away from the Red Sox game by a startling sound.

"Everything went black, and we heard a big bang," Wood said on Sunday, the day after the accident.

Upon running outside, Wood said, "I saw a car smoking, facing the opposite direction from the way it was coming."

The smoking car, which came to a stop approximately 200 feet from Wood's house, belonged to Jacqueline Martinez of Village Drive in Southbridge. Incapacitated, Martinez was stuck inside the car that caught on fire upon impact with an oak tree.

"There was another guy trying to pull her out," Wood said. "So I called 911 and headed toward the car and we pulled her out."

That "other guy" was Wilfred Lachapelle of Sturbridge, who was on his way home via North Woodstock Road.

"I was going toward Southbridge and the girl was coming toward Woodstock," Lachapelle said.

Witnessing Martinez lose control of her vehicle coming around a bend, Lachapelle moved out of her way to avoid impact.

"I thought she was coming toward me so I pulled over to the gutter so I wouldn't be involved," he said.

In the blink of an eye, "the car rolled over and hit the big tree," Lachapelle said.

According to Wood, Martinez's vehicle actually hit a telephone pole on one side of the street, which sent her careening to the other side where she "hopped the bank and hit an oak tree, and still had enough inertia to spin her around."

"So she was moving," Wood added.

Lachapelle was the first person to approach the vehicle once it came to a stop.

"The first thing I thought of was 'we gotta get her out of there, I don't want to see her burning in there,'" he said.

"I got out of my car and I went over to her car," Lachapelle continued. "I thought she was dead at first, but she was groaning."

Noticing the fire growing under the hood of the vehicle, Lachapelle said he reached inside the car and unfastened Martinez's seatbelt, when he was joined by Wood, and one other individual who had left the scene prior to the arrival of police and firefighters.

"He was gone by the time the cops came. I don't know who he was, he must have just been driving on the road," Wood said of the other rescuer.

As for the victim, "We picked her up and took her out of the car," Lachapelle explained. "We brought her about 50 feet or so and put her on the ground."

Lachapelle said that by the time police and fire crews arrived, the car was completely engulfed in flames.

Once Martinez was safely away from the vehicle Lachapelle said, he actually ran back to the burning car to make sure there were no other passengers.

"I wanted to make sure there was no baby or anything in there," he said.

"All I can say is that it's a good thing someone was there," Lachapelle continued. "Together we did it. I couldn't have handled her alone."

Watching the events of Saturday evening unfold, Lachapelle said, was surreal.

"When you see it in front of you, it's like a movie," he said.

Wood agreed, saying, "I've never seen anything like that, and would really rather not see anything like it ever again."

As nervous as they may have been, the men did not hesitate to act when they saw Martinez in danger.

"You don't really actually think about it," Wood said, until after the smoke had cleared.

"That's what we're supposed to do," Lachapelle said about responding to someone in need.

The first emergency responders to arrive on the scene were police officers Richard Reddick and Robert Salisbury, who administered first aid to Martinez until paramedics arrived. Officer Dean Bruneau and Sgt. Ryan Roettger also responded to assist Reddick and Salisbury.

(Names of the firefighters will be inserted here.)

Martinez was transported form the scene to Harrington Memorial Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

According to police, the accident remains under investigation and, "criminal charges including operating under the influence of alcohol will likely be sought against Martinez."

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

See Tuesday's Southbridge Evening News for this story and complete coverage of community news.

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