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Guardsmen save man in burning vehicle

Guardsmen save man in burning vehicle

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2009 8:01 pm

NASHVILLE – The quick actions of two young Tennessee National Guard
soldiers saved the life of a man who was trapped in his overturned truck
with flames approaching his pinned legs.

Just over two weeks ago, Leonard Darby, of Covington, was traveling
south along State Route 54 between Covington and Brownsville when his
2003 Ford Ranger pickup blew a right front tire, ran off the road,
struck a tree, flipped over and caught fire.

Two soldiers of the Tennessee National Guard were first on the scene,
and according to State Trooper Billy Jackson, if the two Guardsmen
hadn’t been there “that man would have burned up — no ifs, ands
and buts about it.” The near tragedy happened on August 4 along
Highway 54 near Brownsville.

Sgt. Keith Lewis and Pvt. Anthony Billings, on temporary duty with the
National Guard recruiting office in Covington, were on their way to
Jackson to pick up an applicant to be tested for entry into the Guard
when they saw smoke in the distance.

“We thought it was a brush fire but when we got close I could see a
pickup turned over and smoke coming from the front,” recounted Lewis.
“As we ran to the truck we could hear a voice screaming ‘Someone
help me. Get me out!’ and I could see a man pinned inside.”

The two Guardsmen tried to open the truck’s doors but they were
jammed tight. Soon a passerby came running with a fire extinguisher, and
Lewis broke the driver’s window and cut away the shoulder belt as
Billings kept continued to try to open the passenger door.

By this time, other passersby were bringing the soldiers more
extinguishers.

“Pvt. Billings kept trying to get him out and I was trying to put out
the flames,” Lewis said. “I used up that first extinguisher, then
about six or seven more that people kept bringing me. Every time I
thought the fire was out, it flared up again. And his legs were pinned.

“We knew we had to either put out the fire or get him out … or he was
going to die right there.”

After the last extinguisher was used up, the flames continued to spread
and the trapped driver began screaming, “My legs are burning!”
Billings gave up on the passenger-side door and wedged himself in
through the sliding window in the rear of the cab, continuing to try and
free him. With the help of several civilians, they were finally able to
extricate Leonard Darby from the burning vehicle.

“We pulled him a good ways off,” Billings said. “His head was
split open so I bandaged him and we just kept him calm.” Authorities
arrived a short while later and Darby was airlifted to a hospital in
Memphis.

Sgt. Lewis said they never thought about the truck possibly exploding
as they worked to free the trapped man.

“I guess our Guard training kicked in, Lewis said. “You step up and
do what you have to do and don’t think about it, just like you’d do
for a buddy in combat.”

Both soldiers said they don’t deserve all of the credit for saving
the man’s life.

“Others helped, too,” Lewis quickly pointed out. “We were blessed
that we were in the right place at the right time. It was about 3:00 in
the afternoon. If it had been 3:00 in the morning, Mr. Darby would have
died.

Sgt. Lewis has been in the National Guard almost four years and lives
in Cordova, in Shelby County. Pvt. Billings, who just recently completed
Basic Training, resides in Brighton, in Tipton County.

Posted 8.24.09

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