Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Men risk lives in rescue from burning car

`Guardian angels' save injured woman trapped in wreck

By Janet C. Wetzel
The Cincinnati Enquirer



OXFORD - Tammy Ernst lay trapped in her burning car, seriously injured and terrified she would perish in the blaze that erupted after she swerved to miss a dog and rammed into a culvert.

Suddenly, through the smoke and flames, she saw two figures. The two men, Jeff Bisdorf and Jason Caudill, dragged her from the car seconds before it was engulfed in flames.

The incident began about 10:15 p.m. Sept. 15. The Oxford woman was on Ohio 177, going home from the grocery in a car she'd just bought and was driving for the first time.

A ringing cell phone distracted her, and she looked up to see a dog in her path. She swerved, crashing into a driveway culvert. Badly hurt and unable to open the car door, Mrs. Ernst, 38, watched as the car caught fire.

"I thought I was going to die in that car,'' she recalls.

Within minutes, Mr. Bisdorf and Mr. Caudill happened separately upon the burning car.

"A woman was inside, and she had blood all over her face and head,'' recalls Mr. Caudill, 20, of Camden. "She was screaming, `Help, please, please help!' It was awful. I knew we had to get her out of there.''

They discovered the car door was jammed.

"We were looking at each other, thinking, `What do we do, what do we do?' " says Mr. Bisdorf, 22, a senior at Miami University in Oxford. As the flames grew higher, they frantically wrestled with the door.

Then, "pure instinct and adrenaline took over,'' says Mr. Bisdorf. "I told her it was going to hurt, then I grabbed her under one arm and Jason grabbed the other. We (dragged) her out the car window. We were dragging her away as fast as we could, afraid the car was going to explode.''

Seconds later, it was engulfed.

"If they hadn't of been there, I would have died. No doubt about it,'' says Mrs. Ernst, whose family includes husband Charles and two children, Heather and Bill.

She has had surgery to put rods in her left leg, which was broken in three places; a rod in her right ankle; and a steel plate in her pelvis. She has two back fractures.

Mr. Caudill says the rescue lasted minutes, "but it seemed like an eternity. It didn't seem real at first. But when I saw her face, I knew it was real. It was the scariest moment in my life."

The men used their shirts to stanch her bleeding until help arrived.

"Their willingness to place themselves in great danger to save the life of someone they didn't know is simply amazing," said Butler County Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard. "These men are true heroes."

The men said that before the accident, they didn't believe in fate.

"There is no doubt in my mind someone was watching over her and us. It's only by the grace of God we all survived that night,'' Mr. Caudill says. "It makes me realize how important life is. It's the greatest feeling in the world to see her alive and know we helped.''

Mrs. Ernst's faith in humanity has been renewed.

"This makes me know there are still good people out there,'' says Mrs. Ernst. "I don't know where they came from ... two kind people that appeared out of nowhere and risked their lives to save a stranger. They're my guardian angels.''

Do you know a Hometown Hero - perhaps someone in your community dedicated to helping others? E-mail Janet Wetzel at jjwetzel@siscom.net or fax to (513) 755-4150.

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