“I could hear somebody screaming for help,” one of the helpers, Carolee Ervien, said at a news conference. “So I ran to him and … realized it was the trooper.”
“I reached for the handle and it wasn’t moving,” she continued. “I put my hands on the top of the door, put my foot on the side of the car and I pulled the door back enough to where I could reach in and help him down.”
Trooper Casey Rhinehart was escorting an SUV driven by a family who was afraid they would run out of gas on the way to Wickenburg, a town located about 66 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix, DPS officials said at a news conference Wednesday.
The trooper followed the vehicle in the southbound lane of Highway 93, before another car that was allegedly speeding and attempting to pass in a northbound lane collided with them, DPS said.
The April 30 collision killed two people and injured five others, according to authorities.
Rhinehart was rushed to a hospital after being pulled from his burning patrol car thanks to Ervien and Russell “Rusty” Christensen.
Ervien said she wasn’t strong enough to pull Rhinehart out of the burning vehicle on her own. Around that time, Christensen drove up to the crash site and helped get the trooper out.
“I actually started going to the passenger side because I could see him,” Christensen said. “He was trying to break the window. Then I saw Carolee end up at the vehicle. Once I realized she got the door ajar – that’s when I swung around the vehicle.”
“[The flames were] getting bigger literally by the second,” he continued. “We were falling all over the place just trying to drag him and get him away and at a safe distance from what was gonna become a pretty big fire.”
After they got Rhinehart a safe distance away, Christensen said he noticed the trooper was still running the scene while injured on the ground.
“I know he was in a lot of pain but he still ran that scene even in the condition he was in,” Christensen said. “Mad respect for him.”
DPS said those who died included a 23-year-old woman who caused the crash, along with a wife and mother from the vehicle that was running low on gas, FOX 10 of Phoenix reported. Trooper Rhinehart has since been released from the hospital and is recovering at home, authorities said.
DPS Director Col. Heston Silbert described the conduct of the two good Samaritans as “valor.”
“I’m humbled by your actions,” Silbert said. “I know [Rhinehart] recognizes what you did better than anyone — because he told me personally, specifically, about what you did.”