Good Samaritans and deputies honored

BY Molly Congdon
and Stephen Williams
Gazette Reporters

CLIFTON PARK — Two passers-by and two sheriff’s deputies are being honored for their efforts to save a man’s life last summer in Clifton Park.

County supervisors on Jan. 20 cited their efforts and said the fact that the car fire was a suicide attempt did not diminish the heroism displayed by Adam Myers of Milton, Michael Campanella of Clifton Park and deputies Jonathan S. Grady and Jeffrey O’Connor.

Myers and Campanella recalled the evening of Aug. 8 as ordinary right up until they saw the burning car.

Myers, who had recently completed his undergraduate education at Siena while playing Division I soccer and was about to begin the school’s masters program in accounting, had just finished playing a round of golf at the little par three at Barney Road. Campanella, a 40-year-old General Electric employee and owner of his own construction company, was driving home to watch a movie with his wife and son after a long day of helping his parents lay down some tile.

Nothing was out of the ordinary until Myers, who had started to drive away, noticed a Subaru Forester in the opposite lane that was filled with smoke.

“I thought he might be having engine trouble; I’ve grown up around cars with my dad,” Myers said. “I pulled my car over to the side of the road to see if I could help.” But as he looked in his rearview mirror prior to stepping out, he saw the car speed across the parking lot where he had just been parked. Luckily, the lot was empty; he had been the last to leave.

The car continued down an embankment and straight into the marshy mud of Murphy’s Pond. It was then that it burst into flames. Myers, who was about 100 yards away, started sprinting for the vehicle.

Campanella had a different vantage point. “I was driving down the road and I looked to my left and I saw a burning car almost hit the side of my truck,” he said. “I pulled ahead of him, he sped up, went around me and right into the water.” He immediately ran to the car as well, arriving almost at the same time as Myers.

They quickly opened the driver’s door, reached in and pulled the man out, which was not an easy feat — even for two strong men. “It took everything we had,” Myers said. “We got him out and he was completely on fire; his skin was coming off when we were pulling on him. I’ve never seen flames like that so close.”

Some images are hard to forget. “He looked like a piece of burnt chicken,” Campanella said. “He had a flame on the top of his head when we pulled him — his whole right side was covered in flames.”

Myers threw mud and water on the man to douse the flames. Soon they got the burn victim into deeper water, floating him on his back with water lapping at the sides of his face. “He had been unconscious or semiconscious up to that point, but then he sprang to life and did like the Frankenstein back to the car,” Campanella said. “So I said, ‘Buddy is there someone else is the car?’ And he wouldn’t answer me.”

The man stumbled toward the rear door of the driver’s side, opened it and turned to Campanella and said: “My life is over, I just want to die.” Then he went around to the rear passenger door. “I thought, ‘Oh my God please don’t tell me there’s a car seat in there,’ ” Campanella remembered saying. “But when I looked down I saw gas cans and I thought, ‘You bastard.’ He was trying to commit suicide.”

When Grady and O’Connor arrived in response to a 911 call, they said they found the victim re-entering the water and trying to return to the car, which continued to flame. When the man refused to obey their commands, they had Vischer Ferry volunteer firefighters on the scene direct a hose at him to push him away from the car. Grady and O’Connor then entered the water and restrained the man and returned him to shore.

Grady suffered a fractured hand during the incident, said Sheriff Michael H. Zurlo, who presented the two with the Lifesaving Award.

He said the award is presented to deputies who through prompt action or disregard for personal safety save or prolong a life.

“The unfortunate fact that the victim in this incident later died from his injuries in no way diminishes the heroic actions of these two deputies,” Zurlo said in a statement. “Deputies Grady and O’Connor are just two examples of the great work performed by members of this Sheriff’s Office and all law enforcement throughout the country on a daily basis. Their selfless actions are a testament to their training and personal commitment to the residents of Saratoga County.”

The victim, who authorities said was attempting suicide, died 16 days later at a hospital burn unit in Westchester County.

“You didn’t ask to be put in that situation, but you reacted in a calm and thoughtful way to the situation,” Clifton Park Supervisor Philip C. Barrett told the men as the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors recognized, honored and commended them.

There are many people who will complete tasks in order to reap rewards, but then there are some who are courageous without seeking any form of acknowledgment. The latter scenario was what played out Aug. 8.

“We didn’t do it for recognition, it was just human nature,” Myers said.

Even though several months have gone by, the memories haven’t faded. “I live in there and I drive by it every day,” Campanella said. “It’s a reminder every time I see that spot of that event.”