On Monday evening following Columbus Day weekend, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent John DeJohn of HSI Houston was returning home from a weekend of fishing in Corpus Christi, Texas.
As he drove north under the overpass towards the Aransas Pass exit on state Highway 35, he saw a dust cloud and debris, as well as skid marks indicating there had been an accident. A vehicle appeared to have rolled and come to rest on its passenger side in a field. DeJohn immediately pulled over to the median, and activated his hazard lights. DeJohn along with other drivers who had stopped to assist, ran to the vehicle and discovered smoke coming from the engine compartment.
The vehicle had rolled through a deep ditch and through a five-strand barbed-wire fence and was on fire. DeJohn observed a young girl pinned under the vehicle, screaming for help. She had severe facial injuries, including a bloody mouth and missing teeth and appeared to have a broken leg.
DeJohn took charge of the situation and instructed one of the assisting individuals to call 911 and asked another individual to retrieve a fire extinguisher from his work truck while DeJohn and others tried to free the girl from underneath the vehicle. The group pushed up on the vehicle to relieve the pressure on the child and to pull her from the wreckage, placing her a safe distance from the burning vehicle. When the individual returned with the fire extinguisher, he attempted to put out the fire in the engine compartment, but the fire continued to spread.
The girl told her rescuers that her sister was also in the vehicle. After helping rescue the girl, DeJohn returned to the vehicle that was still on its side and observed an unconscious female in the driver’s seat strapped in with her seatbelt. The man with the fire extinguisher advised DeJohn that the fire was flaring up and spreading. Because the vehicle was lying on its passenger side, DeJohn was unable to open the driver’s door or reach the driver’s seat belt; he asked one of the individuals who had a knife to cut the seatbelt, which released the driver.
The group attempted to extract the driver up through the driver’s window, but the opening was small and she was still unconscious, which made rescue especially difficult. The fire continued to spread and smoke began to fill the vehicle cabin. DeJohn instructed three individuals to help him push the vehicle back on its wheels. Once they righted the vehicle, the driver’s side door was opened and the driver was pulled out and dragged away from the fire to safety.
Shortly thereafter, the driver, who was bleeding near her left eye, regained consciousness and asked what happened. DeJohn told her she had been in an accident and to remain calm.
The driver notified her rescuers that her sister was in the car, but DeJohn explained that her sister was away from the vehicle and safe. As the flames continued to spread throughout the vehicle, the Aransas Pass (Texas) Police Department, Fire and EMS services arrived and extinguished the vehicle fire, and began providing first aid to the driver and her sister, who were then transported to the hospital.
After providing a statement to the officer at the scene, DeJohn departed the scene and continued his drive home. Reminiscing following the accident, DeJohn said, “You don’t ever want to be a hero, because that means someone’s life is in peril.”