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News / Clark County News

Passersby recount rescuing two from fiery crash

Jeep caught fire off Ridgefield street after hitting tree

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: June 12, 2019, 9:42pm

Weary from a long night of travel, Hayden Curtis’ journey had barely begun.

Around 3 a.m. Monday, Curtis, 22, and his girlfriend were driving on the 3600 block of Pioneer Street in Ridgefield — the final stretch home in a five-hour drive from British Columbia. They noticed, on the side of the road, a four-door Jeep that had veered off the road, crashed into a tree and caught fire.

“We were absolutely drained,” Curtis said. “We didn’t process it at first, but 20 feet later, we realized, ‘Oh crap, a car is on fire.'”

The Jeep’s driver, identified by Ridgefield police as Travis Summerton, 24, of Vancouver, suffered substantial burn injuries. His passenger, Brittany Baseel, 26, of Milwaukie, Ore., suffered serious injuries.

Summerton was taken by Life Flight to Legacy Emmanuel Medical Center in Portland, where he remained in critical condition Wednesday in the Oregon Burn Center, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Baseel was at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, where her condition was listed as satisfactory.

When Curtis and his girlfriend — who did not wish to be identified — stopped, they found Baseel partially hanging out of the back window and screaming for help. Another passerby, Cassandra Thompson, 24, of Ridgefield, also stopped and began to help.

Thompson was driving home from work in Portland when she came upon the scene.

“It looked like something out of a movie,” she said.

Curtis ran to the Jeep and started trying to break windows while his girlfriend called 911. Thompson tried opening door handles on the white Jeep, which was deep in a ditch.

“They were screaming,” said Thompson, adding that she was becoming less optimistic by the moment. “It was very, very scary.”

Thompson ran back to her truck to grab a machete. She later handed it to Curtis, who then shattered the back window so Baseel could crawl out.

Concerned about a possible explosion, Curtis moved Baseel about 20 feet away from the fiery Jeep. Summerton was in a harder-to-reach position, though, due to the flames.

“Every second, it’s getting more and more engulfed in flames,” Curtis said. “At this point, we thought we were going to watch somebody burn to death because there was nothing we could do.”

At some point, however, Summerton managed to exit the car and run across the street.

“It was a miracle sent by God,” Thompson said.

Flames continued to surround Summerton, prompting Curtis to run over, take off his shirt and pat him down.

“The whole time, I’m screaming, ‘You’re alive! You’re alive!’ ” Curtis said.

Moments later, as popping sounds could be heard from the Jeep, Clark County Fire & Rescue crews arrived to assist Summerton and Baseel, and extinguish the fire. Curtis estimated the entire episode lasted five minutes.

“It felt much longer, man,” Curtis said.

In the days since the crash, Curtis and his girlfriend have been texting more, to ensure they make it safely to their destination when driving places.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before, so we don’t know how to digest it,” Curtis said. “I don’t think it’s set in.”

Clark County Fire & Rescue Chief John Nohr said he plans to reach out to Curtis and Thompson soon to ask how they’re doing, adding that first responders have made more of an effort to do that in recent years.

“A lot of times for bystanders, that’s the only time they come across that,” Nohr said.

Usually, the best strategy when encountering people with serious injuries is to not move them and wait until emergency crews arrive to avoid further injury, Ridgefield Police Chief John Brooks said. But this situation was different.

“This was unique because the car is on fire,” Brooks said. “In this one, time was of the essence.”

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit is investigating the crash and has not responded to requests for comment.

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A GoFundMe account has been created in an effort to help Summerton with his medical costs.

Thompson said she was happy the rescuers were in “the right place at the right time.”

“When something like that happens, it’s just fight or flight,” she said.

While the crash was jarring, Curtis said he is glad it wasn’t worse.

“I don’t think the mental pictures are going to go away any time soon,” Curtis said. “Even if the guy is severely burned, it’s better than him being dead.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter