A Fiat Chrysler executive is being hailed a hero after he used his Jeep Wrangler to move an SUV that was caught on fire away from a car with passengers inside.
One evening, Ralph Gilles, global head of design for Fiat Chrysler, was driving down a snowy road with his wife, Doris. On their way home, the couple was traveling through Addison Township, Michigan, when they noticed a two-car accident.
Before their arrival, a driver of a Ford Edge crossed the center lane, hitting a Ford Fiesta. The Edge was driven by a 36-year-old St. Clair man who admitted he had been drinking.
According to The Oxford Leader, the St. Clair man had "lost control" and "went left of center," and crashed into the Fiesta containing a husband and wife.
“We were the first (ones) on the scene,” Gilles said. “It looked like it just happened based on the steam and the fact that the gentleman (driving the Edge) was clearly just getting out of his car.”
While the two cars were stationary on the roadway, a Buick LeSabre, driven by a 26-year-old Oxford Township woman, collided with the Fiesta.
“She comes along, it’s dark out, obviously, and she broadsides the Fiesta, which pushes that into the Edge and the Edge catches on fire,” said Deputy Jerry Yaldoo of the Sheriff's Crash Reconstruction Unit.
The man driving the Edge was able to get out of the vehicle. However, the couple in the Fiesta was trapped.
Gilles' wife began calling 9-1-1, while he went to help the couple inside the Fiesta. He began pulling on the doors, but none of them would open.
Then flames began to come out of the Edge's engine compartment. The Edge and the Fiesta were touching — it was only a matter of time before the Fiesta would catch on fire.
Gilles decided to use his Jeep to “push the Edge to the opposite shoulder, away from the other two vehicles.”
“I still have no idea where that (thought) came from,” Gilles said. “The only thing I can remember thinking: 'I’ve got a Jeep, it’s got a bumper on it, I think I can do this.' All I could think about were the two people still inside the other car.”
Gilles had to do something, and it had to be fast. The location they were in and the time of night could have taken the fire department a while to arrive on the scene. And when they did, it could have been too late.
“I give the Jeep a lot of credit because had I been in my (Dodge) Challenger, I wouldn’t have had the traction to do it,” Gilles pointed out. “Luckily, we had the Jeep that night. I put it in four-wheel drive, and it worked perfectly.”
After the Fiesta was pushed to safety and firefighters arrived, the couple was extracted from their wrecked car. Sadly, the wife in the car sustained life-threatening injuries. She was transported to Ascension-Crittenton Hospital in Rochester Hills. Later, she was airlifted to Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital where she died hours later.
The husband in the Fiesta is listed in "stable condition." The driver of the LeSabre is doing fine but sustained minor injuries.
“That guy did a pretty heroic thing,” Addison Fire Chief Jerry Morawski said of Gilles. “I think the guy did a great job — it could have been worse" if Gilles didn't take action.
Gilles doesn't view his actions as heroic. He believes "it's kind of what you're supposed to do."
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