It was pure instinct that guided Jovan Byrd when he heard the loud screeching sound, followed by a huge crash, outside his Main Street apartment in North Buffalo on Sunday night.
He ran outside and spotted a 79-year-old woman’s car engine on fire, with her trapped in the driver’s seat.
Together with off-duty Buffalo Police Officer Michael Norwood, from the city’s Ferry-Fillmore District, Byrd grabbed the woman, lifted her out of the vehicle and took her to safety. Then someone else, perhaps a neighbor, used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire.
“They put their lives in danger to save others,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said of the two rescuers late Monday. “In my eyes, they’re heroes.”
While Byrd doesn’t sound like any braggart, he acknowledged that someone might call him and Norwood heroes for their actions, saving the woman who apparently suffered a broken ankle in the crash.
“I don’t want to boost myself, but I would say it was heroic,” he said Monday. “The fire was getting bigger and bigger. Basically, the car could have exploded.
“Honestly, we risked our lives,” he added. “The car was still on fire when we hoisted her out, and we had to do it delicately because of her ankle. It was a natural instinct, out of fear for someone else’s life.”
The accident happened at about 7:55 p.m. Sunday, when a northbound car driven by Bonnie Werdein of North Buffalo was making a left turn from Main Street to Florence Avenue, according to police reports. Her car was struck by a southbound vehicle on Main, with the force of the collision sending both vehicles to the curbs on opposite sides of Main.
Byrd ran from his nearby home, spotted the burning car and saw two people trying to pry the door open.
While the rescuers were hesitant at first to try to move the obviously injured driver, Byrd said he screamed that they had to get her out of the burning car as quickly as possible.
Byrd and Norwood immediately saw that the woman’s ankle was badly injured.
“The off-duty police officer grabbed her by the legs, and I grabbed the rest of her body,” he said. “We hoisted her up together and took her a few feet away from the car.”
Byrd believes that Werdein suffered a possible broken ankle and bruised ribs in the crash. She was listed in good condition Monday in Erie County Medical Center.
Commissioner Derenda already has received at least one email from a police lieutenant recommending that Norwood and Byrd be cited for their heroic actions.
Sunday night’s rescue was eerily similar to an incident in Chautauqua County one week earlier, when a sheriff’s deputy on routine patrol and an off-duty EMT pulled a woman from a burning vehicle that soon became fully engulfed in flames.
The Buffalo incident left Byrd, who turns 30 later this week, gratified.
“I’m so grateful that she wasn’t more seriously injured,” he said of Werdein. “If I saved her life, I’m grateful that I acted the way I did.”