GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- For Westchester County Police Officer Chris Gutierrez, responding to two or more car accidents is all in a day's work.
But Thursday's tour-of-duty was all the more satisfying, Gutierrez told Daily Voice, because "everyone got out OK."
Gutierrez, 35, had just begun his night shift when several motorists flagged him down about 4:10 p.m. along the southbound lanes of the Sprain Brook Parkway near Grasslands Road just past the Eastview exit in Greenburgh.
The SUV careened off the parkway, through a guardrail, past thick bushes and trees before landing in a ditch. Gutierrez had to back his patrol car up on the shoulder to see the wreck, crediting passersby with directing him to the crash site. When Gutierrez got to the SUV, it was on its right side with a driver in her 80s trapped and frightened in her crumpled compartment.
"She was in shock, in and out of consciousness,'' Gutierrez recalled. "She was holding onto the seat belt really tight. She didn't want to let go of it."
Since it was a serious accident with possible injuries, Gutierrez is trained to keep the driver safe, still and calm until paramedics arrive. "I didn't want to move her until the EMTs arrived,'' he said.
But then the police officer noticed "it started to flame up" near the hood. "Flames started going up high. I didn't have time to wait."
The driver's door was wedged closed, but with the assistance of John Silano, a HELP truck operator, Gutierrez was able to extract the woman as Silano held her door open.
They carried her safely away from the car as flames spread beyond the hood -- but before it became engulfed by fire.
"I've had extrications before, but never where there was a fire,'' Gutierrez said, noting he was still numb from the experience on Thursday night. "Unfortunately in this line of work you see a lot of things. . . . At the end of the day, you're just happy everyone got out OK. I'm back on the road."
The driver was diabetic and is suspected to have gone into shock before traveling down the embankment, Gutierrez said. Witnesses told police the driver had been swerving on the parkway before crashing.
The woman was taken by ambulance to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. The cause of the accident is under investigation by New York State Police, which has primary jurisdiction on the Sprain Brook Parkway.
Shortly after his Sprain Brook rescue, Gutierrez said he responded to another motor vehicle accident on the Hutchinson River Parkway in Mamaroneck.
"Some days are busier than others,'' he said.