Florida Firefighter: Wreck 'Looked Like Battleground'

For the first time in his 26-year career as a firefighter, Deputy Chief Roger West said he was helpless as he watched a man burned alive.


NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. --

A Nassau County Fire Department dash camera was rolling and two firefighters were at the scene of a fiery head-on crash just moments after it happened; however, a deputy chief of the department said he was powerless to help a man trapped inside of a burning vehicle.

For the first time in his 26-year career as a firefighter, Deputy Chief Roger West said he was helpless as he watched a man burned alive.

He and another firefighter were on their way to lunch when they saw smoke from a block away.

"When we pulled up, we noticed the mayhem that was taking place. It almost looked like a battleground," West said.

The fiery wreck the firefighters found occurred just after 1:30 p.m. on state Road 200, also called Eighth Street, at Adams Road. The Florida Highway Patrol said the pickup struck three vehicles before overturning and catching on fire.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the man behind the wheel of the truck, 65-year-old Donald Harrison, drove in the wrong direction on Eight Street near Sadler Road and hit three other vehicles head-on.

West said he had nothing more than a fire extinguisher at the time. He tried to keep the flames off Harrison, but it was not long before the extinguisher ran out.

"I felt like I was deserting him. There was nothing more I could do until the fire engines came," West said.

He said he knelt down beside the burning truck and talked to Harrison as the 65-year-old passed away.

"Over 26 years I've been doing this and I've heard people say, 'It seemed like it took forever for you all to get here.' Yesterday, I felt what those people have felt," West said.

The driver of the first vehicle Harrison struck in the four-vehicle wreck also died in the wreck.

Thomas Hooke, 68, was thrown from his pickup truck and the vehicle landed on top of him.

Bystanders tried to lift the truck off Hooke, but firefighters said it was too late.

"I heard this man screaming and screaming and screaming. Suddenly, he stopped screaming," said Paul George, who was in the fourth vehicle that Harrison hit.

The other victims involved in the crash suffered non life-threatening injuries.

The FHP is hoping an autopsy will show whether Harrison had a medical condition or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he accelerated into traffic.

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