Local News

Trooper pulls four toddlers from burning minivan

Posted September 14, 2010 5:12 p.m. EDT
Updated September 14, 2010 7:02 p.m. EDT

— 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.

"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.