Local News

Trooper pulls four toddlers from burning minivan

Posted September 14, 2010

— A state Highway Patrol trooper is being hailed as a hero for rescuing four young children from a burning minivan along Interstate 95 last week.

Jessica White DePriest was heading with her children home to Hinesville, Ga., from her parents' home in Dunn last Thursday afternoon when her 2004 Dodge Caravan began acting up, so she pulled off onto the shoulder of I-95 in Robeson County and waited for her parents to come pick up the family.

Trooper Alan Humphrey spotted the stranded family and stopped to help.

DePriest, 24, told him that her parents and a wrecker would be there in an hour, and that she would be OK until then.

Humphrey said, however, that he didn't feel comfortable leaving the young mother alone with 18-month-old triplets Raychel, Rebekah and Kalob and 2½-year-old Jakob.

"She was just very upset and distraught," he said Tuesday.

After about five or six minutes, Humphrey said, he noticed waves of heat coming from the hood of the minivan and discovered that the vehicle's engine was on fire.

"I was, like, 'Oh my God, I have to get my children out of the car,'" DePriest said.

Humphrey grabbed two of the children and put them in his patrol car, but he said the fire was moving fast through the minivan.

Trooper pulls four toddlers from burning minivan Trooper pulls four toddlers from burning minivan

"Thankfully, a passing motorist stopped with a fire extinguisher to try to put the flames out," he said.

The motorist, Bill Gorgonnie of Delaware, was able to slow the advancing flames enough so Humphrey could snatch the two other children from the minivan. He said he did what he could to comfort them.

"(They were) very upset – crying, hollering and screaming and carrying on," he said.

Humphrey tried to go back into the minivan a third time to grab whatever clothes, medicine and toys he could, but he was too late.

"All of a sudden, the gas tank exploded, and I lost everything I had," DePriest said.

A black spot with shards of glass on the shoulder of I-95 near mile marker 9 is the only remnant of the roadside emergency.

DePriest, whose husband is on his third tour of duty in Iraq, said Humphrey was a guardian angel to her family.

"Had he not been there, I would have been sitting in the car waiting for my parents, and we would have burned to death," she said. "It makes me cry. It also makes me more thankful for my children. I wake up every day now, and I thank God for my children."

Humphrey, a third-generation Highway Patrol trooper, deflected the praise, saying he was just doing his job.

"There are so many troopers on the highway that are fulfilling these types of needs and requirements on a daily basis that it sometimes becomes unnoticed," he said.

The Walmart in Lumberton gave the family four new car seats, and the Lumberton Police Department donated $100 to the family.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • slickgirl24 Sep 16, 2010

    Amen for Trooper Humphrey and the guy with the fire ext.

  • Tater Salad Returns Sep 15, 2010

    I'm often a LEO-NC hater, but say excellent job to Trooper Humphrey. I hope he inspires his colleagues to act in the same fashion. To protect."---

    I second that!!

  • Vietnam Vet Sep 15, 2010

    He may have been "Only doing his job..." but this was above and beyond the call of duty. Officer Humphrey I'm sure that I speak for the citizens of North Carolina when I say thank you for your service, dedication, and heroism!

  • wildcat Sep 15, 2010

    There is still good in a lot of highway patromen. This is one great example. We need more good stories like this one.

  • wildcat Sep 15, 2010


  • maduda Sep 15, 2010

    It's stories like these that are what need to be reported. Kudos to you, Trooper, for you are a hero.

  • pwilliamson53 Sep 15, 2010

    Thank you WRAL for reporting this amazing story. The NCHP has gotten a lot of bad attention, but these men and women are out day and night for the safety of every person on the highway. A lot of their good deeds are never known, but to you the NCHP, a "Big Thank-you" for all you do. You are our "Angels" on the highway. Your service is greatly appreciated.

  • cwood3 Sep 15, 2010

    There are so many good story lines in this story. First, WRAL reported a positive story about the NCHP. Second, Trooper Humphrey is a real hero-even if he was just doing his job. Third, Wal Mart and Lumberton PD were very generous with their contributions.

    Trooper Humphries, this story could have been so-so sad. You made a difference for a family that will never be forgotten. Imagine the stories to be told years from now. NCHP Trooper saved ME from a Mom's burning car!!

    It's a great day in NC!!

  • 00100111 Sep 15, 2010

    Glad to see some good news about cops once in a while.

  • gcannon Sep 15, 2010

    Regardless of what many people believe, there are great troopers in the North Carolina HP. It takes only a few bad apples to spoil the barrel.