RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A woman died in a crash Sunday afternoon on Interstate 40, just north of Raleigh. Investigators said her SUV caught fire after she lost control, ran off the road and hit a tree.
Multiple bystanders stopped to help and did their best to save her life before emergency crews arrived.
Larry Stokes, of Kinston, was driving along I-40 when saw a puff of smoke in the distance. As he got closer, he saw the smoke was coming from the red SUV. He pulled over to stop and help.
“Human instinct you try to preserve human life, you know?” Stokes said. “If someone’s in need, and they’re in trouble, and they need help, you sort of throw your own safety aside and try to do what you can.”
Sergio Torres of Raleigh was driving by and stopped, too.
“The reason I wanted to help is two to three years ago, my girlfriend was also in a rollover car accident. Several people went to her aide, as well, and it’s due to that that she’s alive today,” Torres said. “So if we can do our part, show our humanity, you know, try and save someone, I would definitely do what I have in my power to do that, as well.”
Torres said about 10 people were helping. He said the men could not get the front doors of the vehicle open, but were able to break some windows. An officer was then able to cut the driver’s seatbelt. Torres said he then went inside the SUV while Stokes and another man pulled the woman out through the rear passenger door.
Torres said his experience as a former Marine Corp sergeant kicked in.
“Hopped in through the driver’s side in the rear, reached around and I was able to pull her up and out as they were trying to pull her away,” Torres said. “I can remember that the fire was definitely building.”
The entire SUV became eventually became engulfed in flames after the woman had been taken out.
The two later learned the woman died — something they both describe as heartbreaking.
“At the end of the day, we wanted for her to come out alive, and it was heartbreaking. Honestly, it was heartbreaking to see that,” Torres said.
State troopers did not release the woman’s identity, but said she’s not from North Carolina.
“I sort of broke down. I mean, at the point where you know you go in and you’re trying to help someone and save their life, you know, you have a bond, some kind of connection with that person,” Stokes said. “And to hear that she didn’t make it was very, you know, heartbreaking.”
It was a tragic ending to a rescue effort both men said they would do again.
“It’s disheartening and tragic this lady lost her life, and, I just, my heart goes out to her family,” Stokes said.