Bystander, officers recall saving woman from burning car

Two Suffolk police officers and a good Samaritan who rescued an unconscious Centereach woman from her burning car after she was involved in a three-car crash recount Thursday night's incident in Lake Grove. Videojournalists: Chris Ware and Stringer News Service (Nov. 22, 2013)

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As flames danced around an unconscious woman trapped inside her car after a crash, a construction worker stopped and grabbed a fire extinguisher in a vain attempt to put out the blaze Thursday evening in Lake Grove.

"I started pushing the fire back out of the car to keep it off her," said David Ayala, 37, of Centereach. "When the fire extinguisher ran out, I broke the window, climbed into the car and tried to unbuckle her."

Ayala, a father of two young children, was driving home when he came upon a three-car crash at Middle Country Road and New Moriches Road about 5:45 p.m. While bystanders stayed back, Ayala sprang into action. He got help from two Suffolk police officers who arrived at the crash site minutes later.

The good Samaritan and the officers gathered Friday at Suffolk's Fourth Precinct station house in Smithtown to speak to reporters.

Ayala said as he worked feverishly to free the driver, whom police identified as Stephanie McNamee, 23, of Holbrook, Officer David Vlacich tried to pry open the passenger door.

Vlacich had hoped to reach McNamee from that side, but the intense heat pushed him back, he said. So, he rushed to the driver's side of the Ford Focus.

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Time, he said, was working against them.

"At that point, the flames were coming up from the dashboard," said Vlacich, 39. "So I just reached into the car, put the driver in a bear hug and just started yanking her out of the car."

McNamee, however, was stuck, her legs wedged between the steering wheel and the dashboard, the men said. As Ayala tugged and pulled on McNamee's leg, Officer Bryan Boudreaux, 45, got into the burning car from the passenger side.

"I just kept my back to the flames and just tried to get underneath her and shoved her as they pulled," Boudreaux said.

The men finally pulled McNamee out through the broken window and carried her to safety. By then, they said, the car was fully engulfed in flames.

"If she had stayed inside, she would have died," Ayala said.

Police said McNamee suffered serious injuries and was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment. The second driver, Emily Clancy, 63, of Farmingdale, was also taken to the same hospital with minor injuries, police said. The third driver, Amy Freilich, 23, of Farmingville, was not hurt.

Police did not say how the crash occurred or who was at fault. The investigation, they said, is ongoing.

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