With only seconds to spare, two drivers managed to subdue a knife-wielding woman and pull her from her burning vehicle at the side of the Trans-Canada Highway just east of Squilax last Wednesday night.
One of the two men involved in the rescue was Observer photographer James Murray, who happened to be driving to Chase that evening, and instead of his usual role of recording the news, found himself at the centre of the incident.
The lone occupant of the vehicle was a female driver, who had previously been reported to be driving erratically in Chase. At approximately 7:30 p.m. RCMP received reports that the vehicle had crashed, rolled to the side of the highway and caught fire.
Murray did not see the crash, but arrived at the scene soon thereafter, where he joined another couple who had stopped to offer assistance.
The woman was on the phone to 911, and Murray and the other man ran to the vehicle to check on the driver.
“I saw the woman, because the car was flipped on its side, she was sitting on the door,” says Murray. “I could see the knife in her hand, she was throwing things around inside the vehicle. I tried to talk to her, but she started stabbing at the upholstery. I could see she had slash marks on her arms.”
Murray kept talking to the woman, trying to calm her and encourage her to get out of the vehicle, which had begun to smoke.
“I did all I could, but I couldn’t calm her down. I tried to tell her to get out, that the vehicle was starting on fire, but she just told me she didn’t care.”
Within seconds, flames were shooting out of the engine.
“I looked at the other man and suddenly he made the decision. He climbed up on top of the vehicle and went in through the driver’s side window — even though she still had the knife,” says Murray.
“I can’t believe how much guts that guy had to climb in there, into that car with her still holding the knife. It was like in that moment we looked at each other and knew if we didn’t get her out, she was going to burn to death, but he was the guy who just made the decision to go in.”
The man began kicking out the passenger window.
“Suddenly, her hand was there,” says Murray. “I grabbed her wrist and bent it back and she let go of the knife.”
Now that the woman was unarmed, Murray was able to drag the woman out of the broken window. As the woman still struggled, Murray was only able to drag the woman a short distance. But then additional help arrived in the form of a police officer, who was able to handcuff the woman and helped Murray drag her further away from the burning car.
Chase RCMP report the woman was taken by ambulance to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops with undetermined injuries. They suspect the involvement of alcohol as a factor.
Afterward, Murray sat on the bumper of the fire truck, feeling in shock. He and the other man were taken to separate police cars to provide statements.
“I never saw the other guy again and that’s my biggest regret, I never got his name. I wanted to shake his hand. What he did was amazing.”
While Chase RCMP have the Salmon Arm man’s name, due to privacy regulations they can not release it without his permission.
Sgt. Gary Heebner of the Chase RCMP acknowledge the valuable role both motorists played in rescuing the woman.
“The RCMP are grateful for the assistance of the motorists who stopped at the scene. Without their willingness to assist despite the obvious dangers, the outcome may have been very different in this case,” says Heebner.
Murray hopes to one day be able to talk with the other motorist.
“I’ve been haunted since, because I know that if it had been me by myself, I couldn’t have done it, I wasn’t strong enough to save her on my own. He was younger and stronger than me and he made that decision to climb in. I want to be able to tell him he’s a hero.”