INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A man ran to a massive inferno to save another truck driver Thursday afternoon. He was joined by a woman who gave birth just three days ago.
“I’m not a hero, I’m just a human with a human heart,” said rescuer Mitch Navarre.
The wall of flames was caused by a tanker hauling jet fuel which overturned as it was trying to exit from I-465 South to I-70 East.
Truck driver, new mother recount heroic acts to save driver in jet fuel tanker crash
Interstate 70 was closed for hours for cleanup. Just after 3 a.m. Friday, the ramp from I-465 SB to I-70 EB was reopened.
Officials said the driver is Jeffrey Denman, 59, of Brownsburg, who is in critical condition.
The black smoke from his semi billowed into the air shortly before 2 p.m. It could be seen for miles around.
But some, like Navarre, got all too close.
Navarre is a long-haul driver from Indianapolis who was in the right place at the right time. He looked up and saw Denman struggling.
Navarre said he pulled his truck over, ran up and saw driver laying facedown, looking grim.
“I said I’m going to get you out and he looked at me,” Navarre said.
That’s when Holly McNally comes in.
She was coming home from the hospital for a quick change of clothes and food when she too saw the driver in need. Never mind the fact that she just gave birth to her fourth child Connor on Monday at 1:26 a.m.
The birth happened so quickly, in 26 minutes, the emergency room doctor at Hancock Memorial Hospital wasn’t even in the room when it happened. It was just the nurse and her mother.
“All I was thinking if this was my brother or my dad, I would want someone to help him,” McNally said.
Kevin Hightower drove underneath the I-70 ramp moments after it happened.
He could see the fuel dripping down onto I-465 below.
He could see that Denman was on fire.
“My eyes watered up because I witnessed someone burning up right before my eyes,” Hightower said. “It’s something that’s hard to explain.”
McNally said she could feel the jet fuel streaming down her feet. Officials said the tanker was carrying 4,000 gallons of it.
That’s when there was another explosion.
“I told myself if something happened to me, at least I was doing a good deed,” McNally said.
“It blew up a second time, I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to get you out,”” adds Navarre.
Navarre was true to his word, draping his own coat over Denman, bringing him down the long walk off the ramp along with McNally.
Because of the heat from the fire, they say Denman only had his boots still when state trooper Chris Hanson brought Denman some of Hanson’s own clothes until medics arrived.
For Hightower, seeing it all unfold from a safe distance, “I was so happy to see him. It was an incredible feeling.”
While he believes Navarre needs to be rewarded for his heroism, Navarre will hear none of it.
“I told them I wasn’t a hero, but I was a human,” Navarre said. “My human heart told me to go over there. It doesn’t matter what you are, who you are, where you come from. We all have to be there for each other to make this world a better place.”
Now, both rescuers hope and pray for a complete recovery for the man they brought to safety.
“I hope he’s ok. I do. I’ll never forget him,” McNally said.
“Let him know that I personally love him and I want to see him,” adds Navarre. “I want him to keep my coat as a shield just to protect him for the rest of his life.”
Investigators believe speed contributed to the crash.
INDOT was able to reopen I-70 after inspectors could take a closer look at the structure underneath and determine it was safe for traffic.
But on top of the ramp where the semi overturned is a different story.
“Jet fuel burns so hot and fast, we’re seeing bits of concrete that’s flying off the barrier wall so you can see actual parts of the concrete that have gone in pockets off of the barrier wall because it was so hot it caused the moisture inside the wall boil and exploded out of the barrier wall,” said Mallory Duncan, INDOT spokeswoman.
INDOT tweeted Thursday evening that the ramp would be closed for an extra day.
If you’re heading south on 465 and want to get on I-70 East, get off at Shadeland and then get on 70 directly.