It’s what everyone would like to say they would do if faced with such a decision, but for a couple from Kingston, it was a no-brainer: get out of the car and help those still trapped in a fiery car accident.
“I didn’t even think. I’d love to say I thought about it, but I didn’t. I just put it in park, jumped out of the car, and ran to help,” said Michael McCaul.
McCaul, who lives in Kingston with his girlfriend, Cheryl O’Brien, laughed as he recalled his split-second decision. To him, it was simply a reaction. And it was all just part of an otherwise fairly normal day.
The couple were returning to Kingston on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018 after a trip to Napanee for some shopping. They knew there’d been an accident in the westbound lanes of highway 401 earlier in the day, so they weren’t surprised when they found themselves in some rather slow-moving traffic just outside of Odessa as they approached Kingston. But they were certainly surprised by what happened next.
“We were kind of at a little stop there, and we were just chatting away, and all of a sudden, we heard a big, loud crash, bang, boom,” said O’Brien.
“When we turned around and looked behind us and there was this big ball of fire!”
What had occurred was the large collision on the 401 that day, where a tractor trailer travelling eastbound approached the slowed down traffic and clipped an Enterprise cube truck causing a chain reaction that involved a flipped vehicle and multiple fuel fires.
O’Brien said it was within seconds that her McCaul put their car in park, opened his door, and took off running in the direction of the flames.
“I crawled over to the driver’s side and climbed out and yelled to him ‘Please! Be careful!’ Because, I mean, it was on fire!” O’Brien said frankly.
“But he ran right over to the truck.”
Well, actually, McCaul jumped over one median, ran through the ditch between the westbound and eastbound lanes, and jumped over the other median before reaching the scene of the collision. There, he went to the first person he saw still in their vehicle.
“Time was of the essence. I could see that the gas tank of the tractor trailer was on fire,” he said.
McCaul helped the driver of the cube truck out of his vehicle and took him to the median, away from the engulfed tractor trailer. There, O’Brien tended to the first driver, while McCaul ran back towards the burning truck. There, he was joined by a few other good Samaritans, who all helped to get the driver of the tractor trailer out of the burning vehicle and to safety. That driver was unconscious at the time, and was in and out of consciousness as he was helped to the median.
It was then that paramedics, fire and rescue, and police arrived on the scene. The fire was quickly extinguished, and, thankfully, no one was seriously injured. And while the crash and fire was a surprise to O’Brien, McCaul’s actions were not at all.
“Oh, god, it doesn’t surprise me one bit. That’s just who he is. It scared the bejesus out of me, that’s for sure!” she said with a laugh.
“I did yell for him, because it was on fire and I was worried that it was going to explode.”
And for McCaul, he’s just happy no one was seriously injured.
“It was pretty intense, but… I’d just like to think that anybody would do it,” he said, noting that he didn’t think twice – or even shut the car door – as he ran to help.
“It’s a good thing that my wife and I were there… Kudos to Cheryl and everyone else that got out of their cars and came to help.”
McCaul laughed a little at the idea of being called a hero before noting that, had he and O’Brien’s schedule been off, even by the matter of a few seconds, it could have been them in one of the vehicles involved in the collision.
“I had some family that called me and they said ‘You’re a hero!’ and, you know, I think I was just in the right place at the right time to make a difference. I don’t know about the hero thing,” McCaul said.
“There are firefighters and police officers and paramedics and ambulance drivers that do it every single day. You have people in the military – My sister and two of my nephews, and tons of other friends and family that are in the army that do it every single day. Those people are heroes,” he continued.
“Cheryl and I were just two people that were in the right place at the right time and we were able to help. That’s it.”