Archived Story

Niles wrestler, coach pull man from burning car

Published 3:05pm Monday, March 4, 2013

A Niles High School wrestler and his coach pulled a man from a burning car — likely saving the man’s life — early Sunday morning on the way home from the state wrestling tournament in Auburn Hills.

Assistant wrestling coach Tom Desenberg was driving the school van south on U.S. 31 when he saw flames coming from the hood of a wrecked car under the Niles-Buchanan Road overpass near Niles around 2 a.m. Wrestler Ryan Casey, who had just taken fifth place at state, and assistant coach Jake Gluekert were passengers in the vehicle.

Desenberg said he stopped the van about 200 yards south of the burning vehicle and got out. Casey and Gluekert followed Desenberg to the flaming car where they found a woman standing near the vehicle.

The woman, visibly upset, asked for help in freeing a male passenger in the front seat out of the vehicle. The flames, Desenger said, had not yet reached the inside of the car.

Desenberg said he tried to get the guy out, but couldn’t, and asked Casey for help.

Casey said the man’s legs were jammed underneath the dash. Once he freed the legs, Casey and Desenberg carried the man to safety, setting him down some 30 feet from the car while Gluekert remained on the phone with police dispatch.

Gluekert and Desenberg then helped walk the man to the school van, while Casey walked the woman to the van.

“I was really impressed by Ryan and the way he handled the situation,” Desenberg said. “He showed a courage way beyond his years.”

Casey said the vehicle became fully engulfed in flames just a few minutes after they got the male passenger out.

“All of a sudden the car exploded — it must have got to the gas tank — and went up pretty big,” Casey said. “At that point, I was like, ‘wow, I was just over there.’”

Desenberg said law enforcement officers showed up shortly after they got the woman and the male to the van.

Desenberg and Casey said they believe the male passenger wouldn’t have made it out of the car in time if they had not been there.

“Two more minutes, and he would’ve been on fire,” Casey said. “It’s pretty crazy. I had a hard time going to sleep that night — it really puts life in perspective.”

After leaving the scene, Desenberg said the three talked about the circumstances that led to them coming upon the scene at 2 a.m. They left the tournament a little late, Desenberg said, and stopped to eat. They also decided to take I-94 instead of their normal route on M-51.

“It was one of those what-if? conversations,” Desenberg said. “What if we wouldn’t have been there?”

According to the police report, the driver of the vehicle was Jennifer Scot and the passenger Maxwel Robinson. Both are from Galien.

Both were taken to the hospital for treatment. The police report said alcohol appears to have contributed to the single-car accident.

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