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Deputy helps save man trapped in burning car

Posted by: Jennifer Gomori Posted date: March 27, 2018


— By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor

Photo courtesy of Cheboygan County Sheriff’s Office Cheboygan County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Runstrom and two passersby rescued an elderly man from his burning vehicle Dec. 5, 2017.

When Cheboygan County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Runstrom arrived on the scene of rollover crash involving a 71-year-old man trapped inside his Ford Explorer, his quick response made all the difference in saving the victim’s life.

“The vehicle was on fire already and two individuals were trying to kick the front window out. They confirmed someone was inside,” Deputy Runstrom said of the Dec. 5, 2017 accident.

“Deputy Runstrom was already on I-75 policing several accidents due to the inclement weather brought on by the snow storm that Tuesday,” said Cheboygan County Sheriff Dale Clarmont. The vehicle was on its side in the median on I-75 northbound at the 296 Mile Marker. Deputy Runstrom was only a couple miles away when he responded.

“There was somebody else trying to put it out with a fire extinguisher, but it was way too large for a fire extinguisher already,” Runstrom said when he arrived at 6:30 p.m. “The rear half of the car was engulfed in flames … from the backseat to the back hatch.”

Charles Woollard, a 31-year-old Indian River, Michigan man, was driving by with his father when he noticed the accident and smoke coming from the vehicle, Sheriff Clarmont said. Another man, whose vehicle had slid off the road into a ditch on the other side of I-75, ran from his vehicle over to Explorer to help the victim, identified as John Stenback of Pleasant Ridge.

The fire department was on their way, but there was no time to waste with the flames near the gas tank.

“I was able to use my window punch to pop the moon roof out of the vehicle and myself and one of the passersby were able to lift him out and pull him away from the vehicle,” Runstrom said.

“Charles assisted Deputy Runstrom in getting Mr. Stenback out of the vehicle. The second gentleman, who helped by attempting to kick out the front window, left the scene before he could be identified,” Clarmont said.

“It did cross my mind, the chance of it exploding,” Runstrom said of the need to get Stenback out of the vehicle immediately. “We kept on pulling him toward the woods away from the vehicle. He had a six-inch laceration to the head. He was conscious but disoriented.”

The icy roads made the situation even more dangerous. Deputy Runstrom had to watch out for other vehicles losing control near accident scene. “There were five other cars in the ditch in that area when I arrived on scene,” he said.

As soon as they were safe distance from the burning vehicle, Runstrom looked back. “By the time we got him out it was fully engulfed,” the Deputy said of the Explorer.

“There is absolutely no doubt these three men saved that man’s life,” Clarmont said. “They had about 10 seconds left before it would have been too late.”

“I eventually walked (Stenback) over to my patrol car to keep him warm inside and get him a gauze pad for his head while we waited for the ambulance,” Runstrom said.

Stenback was taken to a local hospital where he was treated and released for his injuries. “I talked with Mr. Stenback who suffered a severe laceration to his head and a back injury. He said he knows his life was saved that day and is truly grateful to all involved,” said Clarmont.

Clarmont said he plans to recognize Runstrom, who has been with the Sheriff’s office for 10 years, and the two citizens who assisted him for their bravery in saving the life of Mr. Stenback. Sheriff’s deputies located the second citizen involved in the rescue weeks later. He has been identified as Scott Doherty, a 33-year-old Harbor Springs resident.

“Deputy Runstrom, Woollard and Doherty will be honored sometime in early spring in front of the Cheboygan County Board of Commissioners for their efforts in saving Mr. Stenback,” said Undersheriff Tim Cook.