Taylor Thomas, 16, and his girlfriend Ashley Witt, 18, rounded a corner on U.S. 231 near Fincastle at approximately 1:40 a.m. Just moments before Taylor Waldron, 32, lost control of her pick-up truck as she sped around the curve. After rolling over at least three times, her vehicle landed up-right, 235 feet from where it left the road. By the time Thomas and Witt arrived, flames already engulfed the truck and its driver.
The teenagers spotted the flames, pulled over, and immediately called 911. As Thomas emerged from his vehicle, Ross Oliver, 16, and Clayton Jesse McMurtrey, 17, pulled up behind him. They could hear a woman's screams coming from the flames.
"I didn't think anybody was in there," said McMurtrey. "I just kept thinking this can not be happening."
The flames spread fast, and fire officials estimate that by the time Thomas reached the truck, the fire was burning at more than 500 degrees and the temperature was rapidly rising.
"My first thought was to get her out," said Thomas.
He pulled on the door only twice. The first time it wouldn't budge. The second time, adrenalin soaring, he pulled it clear from its hinges. As the temperature in the cab rose,
Thomas reached inside the truck, through the flames, unbuckled the driver's seatbelt, and pulled her to safety.
Waldron was fully conscious, but badly burned as the teenagers carried her to the back of Oliver's truck.
"I introduced myself," said Thomas. "Then I just talked to her and tried to take her mind off of what had just happened."
Roachdale Fire Chief Mike Poole says that the teenagers acted just in time. After they pulled the woman free, the temperature inside the truck rose to more than 1000 degrees. "Drawing one breath of air that hot would scorch a person's lungs and kill them within seconds," said Poole.
Waldron was airlifted to the Wishard Trauma Center and remains in critical condition.
Paramedics on the scene estimated that Waldron sustained third-degree burns to 45 percent of her body including her face, chest and abdomen, right arm and thigh. She also suffered a fractured cervical vertebrae and right leg.
"We are so thankful that they were there," said family friend Nikki Ray, who expressed shock after learning that her friend's rescuers were teenagers. "If they hadn't come around, we wouldn't have her now."
Memories of trauma can take on a life of thier own and be triggered unexpectidly. Images, sounds or smells that trigger memories that often linger long after an traumatic event.
"I'm doing fine," said Oliver, as he sat comfortably in North Putnam High School's gym, four days later. But "fine" disappears when he drives by the accident site.
"I come back around that same corner, and I'm gripping that steering wheel really tight," he said.
Thomas passes the crash site two to three times a day and says that night driving is the worst for him. "Driving at night, going down that road, I just keep thinking I'm going to see her again," he said.
McMurtrey is the only one who was there that night who does not have to pass the scene daily on the way to and from school, but says he can't seem to stay away. "I keep driving by because I just want to know how it all happened."
Though some described lack of sleep or general anxiety, all four teenagers agreed that the worst memory of all was the smell of someone burning.
"You can't get it out of your nose," said Thomas.
Fire Chief Mike Poole says that symptoms of post traumatic stress are common after a devastating accident, and he is particularly concerned about the four teenagers involved in Saturday's rescue.
"I've been in contact their families all week," said Poole. "We all want to make sure that they get the support that they need."
Kathy and Jon Snyder, say their son, Taylor Thomas, is doing as well as can be expected and hope that ceremony's like the one at North Putnam High School on Thursday, will help all of the kids focus on the end result -- a life was saved.
"It's hard to get over these things," said Mr. Snyder. "We want our son to focus on the good. The end result is that she is alive."
The Roachdale Fire Department will honor all four teenagers at their Annual Bean Dinner at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10.
"We invite every county resident to come out and meet some local heroes," said Chief Poole.