Photo courtesy Oregon State Police##Two Willamina residents were rescued from their burning vehicle. They sustained minor injuries.
Photo courtesy Oregon State Police##Two Willamina residents were rescued from their burning vehicle. They sustained minor injuries.
By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Citizens save Willamina couple from burning vehicle

(Updated with new information Monday, Aug. 17)

SHERIDAN - Paul Dolan understands how close he and his wife, Joann, were to losing their lives last Wednesday afternoon. Now he believes the good Lord has a different plan for the Willamina couple.

Paul, 80, and Joann, 81, were pulled from their burning pickup after it veered off Highway 18B at its intersection with Pittman Road, rolled down a 25-foot embankment, came to rest against a tree and burst into flames.

They were extricated from the wreckage by a group of West Valley men who the Dolans believe are nothing short of true heroes.

"I think of what they went through," Paul said. "They will always be a part of our lives."

Paul was driving the couple's full-size Dodge pickup eastbound on the highway between Sheridan and Willamina, according to the Oregon State Police. He came upon a vehicle that was stopped, waiting to make a left turn onto Pittman Road. He over-corrected, crossed the highway twice and the pickup left the road. It came to rest upside down and caught fire.

"We were coming from Willamina, going to the bank in Sheridan," Paul said. "There was someone stopped on the highway. I swerved and hit the ditch."

Jeremiah Graham, 34, was driving a pickup and had stopped, waiting to turn onto Pittman Road, where he lives.

Jeremy Grogan, 35, was driving westbound on the highway. It was his vehicle that Graham was waiting for to pass by before making the turn.

Shortly after Grogan drove by, he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw Dolan's pickup veer across the highway and disappear down the embankment. He turned around in an effort to aid whoever was riding in the vehicle.

"I was on my way from Sheridan to Willamina," said 48-year-old Daron Pond. "He (Grogan) waved me down as I was going by. I turned around, came back and saw the pickup over the embankment.

"I got a fire extinguisher from someone, who after we got the couple up to the road, took off," Pond said. "He said, 'Thank you, good job,' we shook hands and he split. I didn't recognize him."

That individual turned out to be Jared Cornwell, according to 20-year-old Lee Wilson, who said he was driving from Willamina and saw vehicles pulled off on the side of the road.

"I thought it was a fender-bender, and then I saw the flames," Wilson said. "Someone was yelling for a fire extinguisher."

That would have been Pond. The motor was ablaze, and the fire extinguisher that Wilson had with him was practically used up.

"I tried to put the fire out," Pond said. "It wouldn't go out. I knew we needed to get those people out of there quick. I went around to the other side of the truck."

Pond had to tear down and climb through thick brush, including blackberry briars. He reached the passenger window and said he yelled at the Dolans, trying to determine if they were conscious.

"I tried breaking the passenger side window with my bare hands," Pond said. "I figured I better save my hands for pulling them out. There was a tool box in the back of the truck and I asked Jeremy to open it."

Grogan pulled out a hydraulic jack and handed it to Pond. He said he tapped the window and it shattered. By that time, 23-year-old Chad Chitwood was assisting with the rescue.

"We pulled Joann out first," Pond said. "She was easy to get out. Chad grabbed her and took her up to the road. Myself and the guy who took off (Cornwell) were trying to pull Paul out. He wasn't able to help us much."

The fire and smoke were intensifying, according to Pond. He said he believes had the Dolans remained in the truck 30 seconds longer they would not have made it out alive.

"We had them up on the road before the ambulance got there," Pond said.

The couple was transported by West Valley Fire District medical personnel to the Willamette Valley Medical Center. Paul said his wife was home by the end of the day. He went home Thursday.

Both Pond and Chitwood have visited the Dolans at their home in the days since the crash. Pond said he had a nice visit with the couple.

"They're great Christian people," he said. "They said there was nothing they could do. The smoke was black. It was dark. They didn't know which way was up. It was pretty bad. We did what we needed to do."

Pond said he's heard a lot of talk in recent days about the group being characterized as heroes.

"If people want to call me a hero, that's fine, but the real heroes are our military personnel and the first responders who do this stuff every day," he said.

Pond said he is a former volunteer with the Sheridan Fire District, and not once did he respond to a situation that compared to what he experienced in helping rescue the Dolans.

Relaxing at home Saturday, Paul said he and his wife are a little sore, but otherwise they're all right. They're so grateful to everyone who saved their lives.

"Had it not been for all of them taking quick action, with the carbon monoxide and smoke, we had no air, and we could have been gone in a matter of minutes," he said.

He commended Grogan and Pond for "having the savvy" to break the window of their pickup so they could be rescued.

"That tool box helped buffer some of the impact, and I'm just glad it was not locked," Paul said.

Sgt. Brian Young of the Yamhill County Sheriff's Office was one of the first law enforcement personnel on scene. He said he had just driven through the area where the crash occurred and was at the West Valley Sub-Station in Sheridan when he received word of the incident.

"Those guys did an outstanding job," Young said. "Had they not been there, it would have been a different situation."



What an horrific experience, glad they survived it.