A fiery car crash outside the town of Wagener this weekend claimed the life of volunteer firefighter Jeffrey Swartz while he was on his way to aid a resident in respiratory distress, officials said.
Described as a hometown hero in the close-knit town, the 36-year-old husband and father of two, is remembered for his service and dedication to those in need.
He died from carbon monoxide inhalation and thermal injuries, according to the Aiken County Coroner's Office.
Swartz was traveling east on Camp Rawls Road about 7 p.m. Sunday when he lost control of his Dodge Durango, officials said.
The volunteer firefighter's vehicle veered off of the roadway, overcorrected back into the westbound lane and then struck an oncoming 1978 Pontiac.
Swartz's SUV returned to the east bound lane, left the roadway again and then overturned and burst into flames. He was entrapped in the vehicle, and pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, said Coroner Tim Carlton.
The two occupants of the Pontiac, Ellis Green, 28, of Batesburg, and his passenger, Tadario Daniels, 32, of Wagener, were transported to the Medical College of Georgia.
They were listed in good condition at the Georgia hospital on Monday.
Residents throughout Aiken were saddened when they learned of his passing and reflected on his life.
The valedictorian of his 1988 Wagener-Salley High School class, his family background was firmly rooted in farming. He continued to hold close to his family ties and connection with the community even after high school, said agriculture studies teacher Allen Williams.
"We grew up to be a part of our young farmers association, which provides scholarships to high school students," Williams said.
His community ties will be important to his family as they cope with his sudden death, friends said.
"Say what you will about a small town, but when something like this happens, people pull together and they support each other," said Gale Kirkland, member of the S.C. Farm Bureau. "That's one of the great things about a small town."
Described as an easygoing and compassionate person, Kirkland said Swartz was willing to do what he could to help anyone.
"I don't think I have ever heard anyone say anything bad about him," she said. "I never thought about that before, but no one ever had anything to say against him."
Belvedere Fire Chief, Todd Durrance said he didn't know Swartz personally but expressed his sorrow at the loss of a "brother" in the fire service.
"Most people in the county have no idea how busy these volunteer firefighters are," he said.
They are often young men with families willing to give of their time to help their community, he added.
Sunday's crash is still under investigation by the S.C. Highway Patrol.
Swartz was wearing a seat belt.
A witness was reported as having said the truck's emergency lights were not visible at the time of the collision, but that, speed along with many other details, is a part of the S.C. Highway Patrol's investigation.
Swartz's death is the 27th fatal crash in Aiken County this year.
Republished with permission from The Aiken Standard
Visitation will be held from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday at Blizzard Funeral Home, Wagener.
Funeral services will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday at Bethcar Baptist Church. Interment will be private.
Donations may be made to Wagener Fire Department..
Companies planning to bring fire apparatus or personnel to the funeral should call Asst. Chief Russell Redd at the Wagener Fire Department at 803-564-5450