At a news conference in Yaphank on Thursday, Suffolk County police commissioner Rodney Harrison praised Suffolk officers for pulling four people from a burning vehicle in Deer Park shortly after the driver fled during a traffic stop. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk officers pulled four people from a burning vehicle in Deer Park shortly after the driver fled during a traffic stop, officials said Thursday during a news conference in Yaphank. 

The driver, Eric Johnson, 22, of Medford, was yanked from the vehicle just before it became completely engulfed in flames, Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison and Chief of Detectives John Rowan said. Live ammunition inside the car exploded just after the officers pulled Johnson from the burning vehicle, they said.

Harrison called the rescue "some phenomenal heroic work by some brave Suffolk County police officers." A loaded .40 caliber handgun was recovered from a fanny pack in the vehicle, he said. Cocaine and oxycodone were also seized from one suspect.

"The engine block of the vehicle was on fire and the officers still went inside to pull the passengers out of the car," Harrison said. "That right there is bravery."

Freeing the driver while the flames roared closer to the rear, Harrison added, "is pretty remarkable."

First Precinct officers Shawn Arigoni and Michael Rena spotted a white 2018 BMW speeding and swerving shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday in the vicinity of Route 231 and Commack Road, Harrison said. The BMW, carrying three passengers in addition to Johnson, fled north on Commack Road after the officers turned on their light and attempted to pull the car over, police said.

The First Precinct officers turned off their lights when the BMW fled, according to Harrison. The BMW spun out of control about two miles away, near the intersection of Commack Road and Burlington Avenue and hit a tree, causing it to overturn.

The engine block was ablaze when the officers caught up to the suspects, Harrison said. Suffolk officers Thomas Engelhardt and Ryan Carroll, along with other cops, pulled the three passengers from the vehicle through the back door, Harrison said. But the driver was unable to get out because Johnson's legs were pinned by the steering wheel. 

The officers were able to free Johnson from the BMW just before the entire car became engulfed in flames, Harrison said. Ammunition in the car exploded shortly after the driver was rescued.

The fire was put out by the Deer Park Fire Department, Harrison said. The suspects were transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, where they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Johnson was charged with second- and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of a firearm, second-degree criminal contempt and numerous traffic violations.

Passengers Magaly Espinal, 21, of Central Islip, Tazjan Derritt, 26, of Amityville, and Janell Funderburke, 19, were charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a firearm. 

Funderburke was also charged with fifth- and seventh-degree criminal possession of a substance and second-degree criminal contempt. 

Johnson, Espinal and Derritt will be arraigned Friday in First District Court in Central Islip. Funderburke, who remains hospitalized, will be arraigned at a later date. 

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