Jeff Johnson of Winston-Salem was driving north toward Pilot Mountain on U.S. 52 Thursday with his two sons when he saw a burning car in the southbound lanes of the highway in Winston-Salem.
A wreck involving eight vehicles had just happened at 2:43 p.m. on southbound U.S. 52 near North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Winston-Salem police said.
Johnson, 46, a triage nurse at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said he saw the wreck’s immediate aftermath and quickly pulled over to the side of the highway. He jumped over the dividing median and ran toward the scene.
He joined three other men to pull a woman out of a burning car, which a tractor-trailer had rear-ended, said Johnson, who has also worked as an emergency-room nurse at Wake Forest Baptist.
“When I ran up to the car, I heard her screaming for help,” Johnson said of the woman. “All we saw were hands coming out of the car. It took all of us to pull her out of that small window.
“We were able to pull her out at the last minute,” he said. “Another 35 seconds, and that car would have completely engulfed in flames. She was pretty distraught, and understandably so.”
After Johnson and the other men rescued the woman, emergency-medical technicians quickly treated her, put her in an ambulance and took her to a local hospital, Johnson said. Amid the chaos, he and the other men didn’t get the woman’s name, and they didn’t identify themselves to each other.
“I didn’t do it alone,” Johnson said. “There were three other guys. Thank God they were there.
“I wish I knew their names,” said Johnson, who has worked as a nurse at Wake Forest Baptist for 15 years and also works part-time as an emergency-room nurse at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin. “I shook their hands at the scene.”
The rescued woman and seven other people sustained injuries that weren’t considered life-threatening and were taken to a local hospital, police Lt. Todd Hart said. The car’s fire burned the woman’s clothes, Johnson said.
“My prayers go out to her and her family,” he said. “I hope she makes a speedy recovery.”
“I have seen plenty of burns, (and) plenty of trauma,” Johnson said of his work as a nurse. “But that’s the first time that it occurred right in front of me.”
Hart said the wreck happened when the driver of a southbound tractor-trailer struck one vehicle on U.S. 52, kept moving and hit a number of other vehicles. The semitruckeventually stopped.
The impact of the tractor-trailer crushed the rear section of the woman’s car, Johnson said.
The woman’s car was burning in the middle of southbound U.S. 52 South, he said, and no drivers were able to travel by that wreckage. When Winston-Salem firefighters arrived, they quickly put out the car fire, Johnson said.
“I think of myself as a person in the right place and the right time,” he said. “There was a person in need.
“If I didn’t stop where there was somebody alive in a car engulfed in flames, I would have been haunted by that,” Johnson said. “I had to try. I don’t think of myself as a hero. I was just trying to help another person. I had to do something.”
The N.C. Department of Transportation said that the wreck closed all southbound lanes on U.S. 52 near milepost 110 — North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It also led to the closure of the left and center northbound lanes. All the lanes were reopened by about 6:40 p.m., police said.
Officers are investigating the wreck, Hart said.