3 bystanders rescue woman from burning car after crash
Linda Fedee, 66, was unconscious and still strapped into her seat belt when Billy Stone, Richard Hobbs and Douglas McCowan saw her car engulfed in flames
By Jane Harper
The Virginian Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Billy Stone was several car lengths behind a PT Cruiser on Interstate 264 when he saw it veer off the road.
He watched in disbelief as the vehicle hurtled at full speed toward a line of trees.
"I knew it couldn't be good," Stone said. "No one drives off the road like that at 60 miles per hour."
Richard Hobbs was a little farther down the road when he saw the car plow into the woods near the Laskin Road exit on the afternoon of July 19. It bounced like a pinball, from one tree to another, he said.
Both men immediately pulled over, jumped the guardrail and raced toward the car. They were quickly joined by Douglas McCowan, of Richmond.
"I couldn't see the car at that point," Stone said. "But I could see the flames."
Linda Fedee, 66, was unconscious and still strapped into her seat belt. The air bag had deployed, the car windows had blown out and flames were curling out from under the hood and over the dashboard.
The three struggled to open the doors and to rouse Fedee. Eventually, they got her to come to. They bent back the door frame to pull the door open, and yanked her out.
"We took her to the top of the embankment," Hobbs said. "The car was pretty well engulfed by then, so we moved her further down. It was probably 30 to 45 seconds after we got her out that the whole thing started to blow."
A state police trooper arrived shortly, followed by firefighters and paramedics. Stone called one of Fedee's sisters, and the three men stayed with her until an ambulance took her away, then walked back to their vehicles, giving each other a fist-bump and pat on the back before saying their goodbyes.
Fedee, who lives in Virginia Beach, had been headed toward First Colonial Road to take care of a friend's dog that day.
She had been driving east on I-264 and was about to reach her exit when she apparently lost consciousness.
"I just blanked out," she said. "The last thing I remember seeing was the Laskin Road exit."
Fedee spent two nights at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital. She went through a battery of tests, she said, but no one could determine what happened. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before, she said.
"The doctor told me sometimes with these things we never find out," she said.
Fedee's injuries were limited to some bruising, swelling and minor cuts. The biggest issue for her in the days after the crash was the pain caused by the force from the seat belt and air bag.
"I feel very blessed and extremely grateful," she said several days after the crash. "Words cannot express how thankful I am to those three men."
Fedee has no doubt that she would not be alive today if they had not stopped to help her.
Last weekend, she met with two of her rescuers: Hobbs, 42, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technician from Chesapeake; and Stone, 61, who lives in Virginia Beach and works as vice president of engineering for a company in Chesapeake. They gathered at Fedee's brother's house. Efforts to locate McCowan had not yet been successful.
Four of Fedee's five siblings were there to thank the men for their bravery. Some teared up and grew emotional as they offered them hugs.
"I'm just at a loss for words. That someone could be so kind," said Fedee's sister Teresa Noel. "We'll be forever grateful to them."
All three will be recognized at a ceremony at Virginia Beach City Hall later this month, when Mayor Louis Jones will present them with awards. It will be the first time that Fedee will have a chance to meet and thank McCowan, a 63-year-old laborer for a bridge repair and maintenance company in Richmond.
McCowan was in Virginia Beach the day of the accident for a job on Birdneck Road, and was driving to the site with a couple of crew members when he saw the accident. He pulled over without hesitation, he said.
Stone was on his way to a physical therapy appointment . He planned to stop at his house near the Oceanfront to change out of his white dress shirt, slacks and tie, before heading to the appointment. Hobbs was driving to a job at the Oceanfront.
"There was no way I wasn't going to stop," Hobbs said. "My first thought was, 'Well I guess I'm going to be late for this service call.' "
None of them thought about the danger they might have been in at the time.
"I just knew there was a lady in the vehicle and she needed help," McCowan said. "It wasn't until after we got her out that it hit me because as soon as we got her out, and out of the way, the whole car burned up."
There wasn't a lot of talking as the three worked to get Fedee out, Stone said. They just clicked.
"The trio made this happen," he said. "I don't think any one of us could have done this on our own. It was a joint effort."
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