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Royal Oak Sergeant saves woman trapped in burning car

Posted by: Jennifer Gomori Posted date: May 5, 2017


— By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor

Royal Oak Police Sergeant Karly Wingart will be recognized by her department for saving the life of a Royal Oak woman trapped inside a burning car.

“We like to recognize our officers for the outstanding work that they do,” said Royal Oak Police Lt. Keith Spencer. “The biggest thing … is the sheer bravery that night.”

Spencer said Wingart, the first emergency responder to the scene, completely disregarded her own safety when she entered a burning vehicle.

Wingart said she was in the right place at the right time when she saved a 36-year-old woman’s life. She was driving south on Woodward Avenue near 12 Mile Road just after midnight Jan. 15, 2017 when she saw smoke, which appeared to be billowing from a bus. She entered the turnaround lane and when she came out saw a crashed Ford Fusion on fire next to a SMART bus.

She asked bystanders if anyone was in the vehicle and peered inside to see a woman covered in blood in the front passenger seat. The car’s engine was on fire and the passenger side was caved in so she asked the woman if she could climb out of the broken passenger window.

Photo courtesy of Royal Oak Police                                                                                                    Royal Oak Police Sgt. Karly Wingart rescued a woman from a burning vehicle.

“She is conscious but not really responding to what I’m saying,” Wingart said. The woman’s legs were pinned under the dashboard of the car where impact occurred. “I look through the window and the driver’s side door is open. When I ran around to the driver’s side, he was already out of car and laying on the road … and I’m telling her ‘Come on we’ve got to get out of here.’ She was moaning. She stretched her arms out and I just pulled as hard as I could.”

While thoughts of a car explosion or drunk driver running into the car were running through her head, Wingart said, “I was mostly worried about her being burned. I can see the flames growing on the other side of windshield,” Wingart said. “The SMART bus driver had a little fire extinguisher. I remember him holding it up and standing in front of the car. He did attempt to put it out and it didn’t work.”

She was able to get the woman out and a retired EMT standing nearby grabbed the victim’s legs, Wingart said, and helped carry her away from the car. “I am very proud, but not surprised with Sgt. Wingart’s quick thinking and bravery. With complete disregard for her own personal safety, she entered a burning vehicle to assist an injured passenger,” said Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue in a statement.

“I only had tunnel vision,” she said. “I was just concentrating on getting her out. A Berkley Public Safety Officer, who arrived while I was trying to get her out, got his fire extinguisher. As I’m pulling her down the road, I can see the car is reigniting. I don’t know how bad the flames would’ve gotten if he wasn’t here.”

“Someone grabbed the driver and myself and EMT took her to the grassy part in front of bus. Then Berkley Public Safety started tending to her and driver before the fire department got there,” Wingart said.

The Royal Oak Fire Department finished putting out the blaze and Wingart switched gears and secured the scene. “I’m a supervisor and I command the scene and make sure everything is getting done,” she said.

“If you watch the video, the bus driver is laying in the backseat of the car, trying to help. I don’t remember anything that was being said, I don’t even remember half the things that I said,” Wingart said. “We don’t train in these types of situations, but it’s nice to know all the training you go through in the end it actually works.”

After the situation was under control, the retired EMT disappeared. “All good citizens seem to leave the scene before we can thank them,” Wingart said.

The driver, passenger and one bus rider with minor injuries were taken to Beaumont Hospital. The driver and bus passenger were treated and released, but the car passenger wasn’t released until mid-February. “She’s been released, but she’s still recovering from her serious injuries,” Spencer said in late March.

“She had multiple broken bones and she had to have reconstructive surgery on her leg. She has to be taught how to walk again,” Wingart said. “It basically took the whole front passenger side of car and caved it in so she got the brunt of it.”

The investigation found the driver rear-ended the bus, which had just dropped off passengers. Andrew Aman James, a 29-year-old Macomb Township resident, was arraigned on one count of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury. If convicted, James faces up to five years in prison. James has a prior conviction for operating while impaired, police said.

Wingart, who recently returned to light duty after suffering a leg injury of her own while off duty, reflected on her career with Royal Oak PD. An evidence technician with nearly 12 years under her belt, she has no plans to leave the community she has grown to love. “I wanted to go into forensic science to be a crime scene tech,” she said. “Once I got here, I really liked it in Royal Oak and I didn’t want to move to bigger department.”

Her decision to stay put Wingart in the right place at the right time, just like she said, but her bravery is what saved the victim’s life.