Pa. Residents Pull Man from Vehicle in Nick of Time

May 7, 2013
Moments after the Belle Vernon citizens pulled the man out, the vehicle exploded in a fireball.

May 07--Several Belle Vernon residents are being called heroes for pulling a man from his smoke-filled vehicle Sunday afternoon, moments before it exploded into a fireball that extensively damaged a house.

"These guys were heroes by any assessment. Three neighbors pulled him (the driver) out of the car and hosed him down right before five gas cans exploded," said John Hartman, chief of the Southwest Regional Police Department in Belle Vernon.

A group of residents in the Seldom Seen neighborhood of Belle Vernon used garden houses and several fire extinguishers to suppress the fire so that they could pull George J. Ozanick, 28, of Royal Road, Smock, from his sport utility vehicle after it hit the shed at 43 Sampson St., Hartman said.

Ozanick was unconscious when the rescuers pulled him from his vehicle. He regained consciousness after rescuers sprayed him with water, police said.

Ozanick was taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh on Sunday, where he was listed in fair condition on Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Ozanick's vehicle slammed into the block shed with such force that only the rear portion of the vehicle was outside the shed. The roof collapsed on top of the vehicle, making it difficult to open the driver's side door, said Robert Gibson of James Street, one of the neighbors who tried to pull Ozanick out of the vehicle. Gibson said he could not reach the release button on the driver's seat belt in order to free Ozanick.

A knife was used to cut the seat belt.

"He was one minute from being burned alive," Gibson said.

The homeowner, Elliott Leyda, said he thought a bomb had exploded in his house at 5 p.m. Sunday when Ozanick's vehicle slammed into the block shed.

Leyda said he was in front of the shed just 30 seconds before the SUV hit a fence post at a neighboring house, went airborne and flew into the block shed.

Leyda said he got a garden hose and tried to extinguish a growing fire in the front of the vehicle as other rescuers worked to free Ozanick.

"If it had been a little longer, he would have been melted," Leyda said.

Another of the rescuers, Bryan Lorence of Sampson Street, said the SUV was filled with smoke when his father, Tom Lorence of Clarksville, lifted the hatchback so the driver would not suffocate. They grabbed fire extinguishers and garden hoses to attack the fire.

"We were kind of worried (the car would explode), but we were worried someone was going to die," Bryan Lorence, 29, said.

The rear of the two-story frame house sustained extensive fire damage and water damage throughout, Leyda said as he watched a restoration company board up holes in the exterior wall of his house. He said he is awaiting a report from insurance adjusters to determine the extent of the damage.

Leyda, his wife and two sons are staying with family in Belle Vernon and expect to rebuild the house where they have lived for 23 years.

Hartman said police still are investigating the accident and interviewing witnesses who said the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed down the alley.

One eyewitness, Alexandra Zayakosky of James Street, said the vehicle was "barreling down here."

Belle Vernon fire Chief Rich Saxberg said there is an investigation into a miscommunication about the accident and fire. The initial call to the fire department described the incident as a car accident, but later was reported as a fire, Saxberg said.

Saxberg said fire units were at the scene within a few minutes and the fire was under control within 10 minutes.

The rescuers, whom Hartman declined to identify, risked their lives to help a stranger, Hartman said.

"It shows that people will go to any ends to help," Hartman said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].

Copyright 2013 - Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.

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