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Passing motorists rescue elderly man from burning car

Martin Thompson, 65, chief of Head of Harbor

Martin Thompson, 65, chief of Head of Harbor police, and daughter Colleen Thompson, 37, a Suffolk County sheriff, both of St. James, helped saved a man who was involved in an accident on the eastbound Southern State Parkway on Monday, June 16, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Daniel Rader; Paul Mazza

Motorists used a rock and a road sign to rescue an elderly man from a burning car after his vehicle spun out of control on the Southern State Parkway in Brentwood Monday.

Sam Perkins, 85, of Wyandanch, crashed his 1994 Buick into the center median near the northbound Sagtikos Parkway exit about 12:20 p.m., said State Police spokesman Frank Bandiero. The driver was moving toward the left lane exit when he lost control and slammed into trees, Bandiero said.

Seconds behind him, the Thompsons of St. James were homebound from Kennedy Airport and an Irish vacation when they noticed a dust cloud swirling from the embankment.

"We could see smoke and flames underneath the car," said Colleen Thompson, 37, a Suffolk County deputy sheriff.

They pulled over. Shouting to her mother and uncle to call 911, Thompson ran to the driver's side, while her father, Martin Thompson, 65, the police chief of Head of the Harbor Village, raced to the other side. They saw the driver had been flung into the passenger's seat.

The doors were jammed, he said, so he ran to a pickup truck on the parkway shoulder. He found a PVC pipe in the vehicle, which belonged to a state roadway contractor.

The pipe wouldn't break through the window, said the father, also a retired Suffolk police lieutenant and a volunteer firefighter. "Then I saw a big rock, and I smashed the window with it," he said, "and the guy was saying 'Don't move me.' "

Perkins kept saying he was in pain, Colleen Thompson said. Flames were shooting up from the car floor. As the father struggled to pull the driver out the window, the daughter pushed from the backseat.

"We had him in our grip and the flames were coming out of the dashboard and vents," the father said. He said he was thinking, "I don't want to hear the screams of somebody burning."

Car after car passed without stopping. Frustrated, he shouted "I need help."

Suddenly, Martin Thompson said, a man behind him said "Come on" and helped lift Perkins.

It was Michael Sialiano, 67, of Smithtown, who had seen the dust and car steam.

"Normally, you would have to stabilize the neck and all that, but that wasn't an option," said Sialiano, a retired New York City firefighter.

The three carried Perkins several feet away.

Colleen Thompson ran back to the pickup and returned with a 4-foot-long, orange and black construction sign.

"We used a big construction sign as a temporary back board, something we could put him on to lie flat and stabilize him," she said. The three and the pickup driver, who saw the commotion, carried the sign with the man yards from the car.

"We got him out and the car was fully involved," Sialiano said. "In fact, the woods were on fire too."

Perkins was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital where a spokesman said he was in critical condition.

He told his rescuers that he was a World War II veteran, Colleen Thompson said.

Afterward, his rescuers reflected on the fact that they all had medical training. Said Martin Thompson: "Luck seemed to be there for this guy."

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