When Missouri Highway Patrol trooper Jim Thuss witnessed a fiery crash last week, he knew he had to get the driver out quickly.
“I’ve worked enough crashes to know that if there’s fire already, the whole vehicle eventually will go up,” Thuss recalled Wednesday. “I just hoped I could get her out of there in time.”
People are calling him a hero and a lifesaver after he pulled 60-year-old Becky Crawford of Belton from her 2015 Honda Civic right before flames engulfed her car on Feb. 2.
The dramatic rescue was caught on the dashboard camera of Thuss’ patrol car. The Missouri Highway Patrol released the video this week.
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“There is no doubt in my mind that he saved that woman’s life,” said Sgt. Bill Lowe, a spokesman for the patrol’s Troop A.
“She was not in a position to get out of the vehicle, and without his quick thinking and quick actions she would have been more seriously injured or possibly killed.”
The morning of the crash, Thuss, a 19-year patrol veteran assigned to Cass County, was headed north on Missouri D just north of Missouri 58 near Belton when he saw a 2002 Cadillac DeVille traveling 68 mph in a 50 mph zone.
“I turned my lights on to initiate a traffic stop, and when I turned around I could tell he was really moving along at that time,” Thuss said. “I checked his speed again at 101.”
As the Cadillac approached the intersection at Missouri 58, other traffic had stopped at a red light. The Cadillac went around vehicles in the turn lane, ran the red light and smashed into Crawford’s car.
“It was a pretty spectacular impact,” Thuss said. “There was an instant fireball towards the back of the vehicle and a big plume of smoke after that. There was the aftermath of the crash of some vehicle parts in the air with the smoke.”
When he pulled up, he could see fire along the driver’s side of Crawford’s car.
“I didn’t bother trying the driver’s side because of the impact being there and then also the fire. I thought there would be a better opportunity to go through the passenger side,” Thuss said. “I ran around the front of the car and the passenger door opened up easily, luckily.”
Thuss climbed inside and found Crawford stunned and moaning.
“I got her out of her seat belt and pulled her across the console and out of the vehicle and eventually up the hill,” Thuss said.
An off-duty Johnson County deputy sheriff helped Thuss carry Crawford away from the car.
Ron Crawford said Wednesday that his wife is doing well for someone who has gone through what she has. She suffered serious injuries in the crash. He said she expected to be released from the hospital Wednesday and transferred to a rehabilitation facility.
Crawford said he has thanked Thuss for his quick actions. It took a lot of courage for Thuss to do that, Crawford said.
“I thanked him because he risked his life to save the life of my wife,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind that if he had not taken that action, she would not be with us today. He had only seconds to rescue her and he did. He’s a genuine hero.”
Crawford said he believes there are three parts to this story — the selfish actions by the Cadillac driver, the selfless and heroic actions of Thuss, and divine intervention that protected his wife from worse injuries.
The driver who caused the crash fled. He was seen ripping a plastic bag open, and a white substance flew out.
Belton police arrested a suspect a short time later. As the man was being loaded into an ambulance, a trooper noticed a strong smell of marijuana, according to court documents.
Troopers also found methamphetamine and will test blood on the bag to see if it matches the driver, according to court documents.
The Cass County prosecutor charged Benjamin W. Clark, 23, of Belton, with resisting arrest and leaving the scene of a accident, according to court documents.
Thuss said he doesn’t want to sound cavalier when he says that all he was doing was his job. Any other trooper he works with would have done the same thing under the same circumstances, he said.
“I did what I was supposed to do,” Thuss said. “I was there because of the individual I was trying to stop. Honestly, I didn’t really think much about it. I just knew I had to get her out of the vehicle before it went up.”