SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Acting on instinct and training, South Bend police officer Sarah Janis climbed into an upside-down sedan that just crashed and held the neck of the 74-year-old driver stable until paramedics arrived.
Janis, a patrolman first class, was first to respond to the car accident Monday at Portage Avenue and Ribourde Drive.
Police said the vehicle of Nina Lizzi sped south on Portage until it hit the median of a roundabout at the intersection, flew into the air and landed upside down.
Paramedics took the elderly woman to the hospital in serious condition after the accident, which police said may have been triggered by a medical condition.
Police said it took nearly 45 minutes for crews to extract Lizzi from the vehicle, during which Janis held the woman stable and calmed her down to prevent further neck and spine injuries.
"It's part of our job," Janis, who has served six years on the force, told the South Bend Tribune Thursday. "You don't think about yourself when this kind of thing happens."
The officer was in the area when she saw the car flipped upside down. The dispatch center sent out a call for help almost simultaneously.
"I put on my leather gloves, got out my smashing hammer and broke out the window behind her," Janis said. "I climbed inside the vehicle."
Lizzi was unconscious and bleeding profusely. Janis was quickly covered in blood.
The woman soon regained consciousness and Janis held her still, even though Lizzi tried to move to stop the blood from seeping into her eyes.
Lizzi was wearing a white winter coat with a fur-lined hood, Janis said. She tried to move the fur out of her eyes but Janis said she encouraged her to remain still.
"She really wanted to get out of there. I knew it was really hard for her," Janis said.
She said she calmed her down and told her to keep breathing through her mouth.
Paramedics soon arrived, and the group worked as a team to cut the woman out of the car and place her on a stretcher.
Janis had to change her uniform, caked in blood and glass, afterward.
South Bend police Sgt. Anne Schellinger said crews at the scene said her uniform looked like it was made of glitter, as glass shards permeated the fabric.
"She didn't care about her own safety," Schellinger said.
Witnesses told police Lizzi's car hit a red vehicle while driving on Portage several blocks before her car sped out of control.
According to witnesses, the red car did not appear to be at fault, police said.
Police said the red vehicle did not stop, and was not present when Lizzi's car hit the roundabout.
Lizzi remained Thursday in the Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Hospital.
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