Off-duty airman saves 4 from burning car

On his way to work at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base he saw a flipped Jeep that had caught fire; he got the victims out, had one dial 911 and flagged down other drivers for help

By Jennie Mckeon
Northwest Florida Daily News

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida — As a first responder at Eglin Air Force Base, it’s in Rodney Dowell’s nature to stop and help others.

The staff sergeant was driving to work around 5:30 Monday morning from his girlfriend’s home in Panama City when he saw flames by Camp Helen State Park.

When he got to the source of the smoke, he found a flipped over Jeep Compass with a male driver and three female passengers piled in screaming for help.

“I pulled over, got out and started running over,” he said. “I saw the passengers in the back bunched on top of each other.”

Dowell was able to pull both passengers in the back, safely out of the vehicle. He handed one of them his phone to call 911 while he went to the front of the car.

They were both in shock, he said.

“In the front, the passenger was unconscious and the flames were picking up, but I couldn’t get her and the driver out,” Dowell said.

“I just wanted to save these people.”

He flagged down two other vehicles from the road. The drivers helped pull the front passenger and driver out of the Jeep.

The 27-year-old driver, Damian Cambell, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, was taken to Gulf Coast Medical Center with minor injuries, according to the Florida Highway Patrol media release.

Two of his passengers had minor injuries, while the third had none.

Cambell was driving east on U.S. Highway 98, when he traveled into the median and struck a culvert. He then crossed into the westbound lane, where the vehicle started to rotate clockwise and went onto the north shoulder.

The Jeep flipped on its right side on the shoulder and caught fire, the release said.

Dowell stayed on the scene until the fire was out and everyone was safe. He said he had never been in a situation like the crash before and called his heroic moment “one of the big milestones of my life.”

When he finally made it to work, he continued on with his day, but the event followed him.

“When I was talking to the police officers on the scene, they were telling me how the fire was melting the car...” he said. “It kinda hit me later on — what if the other guys didn’t stop and I couldn’t get them all out of the car?”

The first thing Dowell did when he left the scene was call his mom and sister.

“Honestly, I called to tell them I loved them,” he said. “Anything can happen in the blink of an eye and you never know when the last time you get that chance will be.”


©2015 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)

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