Last weekend, a drunk driver in a Ford Edge crossed into oncoming traffic in Addison Township, Michigan, and collided with a 2013 Ford Fiesta in the early hours of Sunday morning. At the same time Ralph Gilles, Fiat Chrysler’s Global Head of Design, was returning from an evening out with his wife and happened across the scene as the engine compartment of the Edge was beginning to catch fire.
With the occupants of the Fiesta trapped inside, Gilles decided to use his Jeep Wrangler push a burning SUV away from a wrecked hatchback — hoping to save them from a fiery death by keeping the flames from spreading to their vehicle. He explained that he had arrived just moments after the crash and had noticed the Edge driver had already exited the vehicle. Unfortunately, one of the two people in the Fiesta later passed away due to injuries sustained during the accident. But he may have saved the other by pushing the flaming SUV to the side of the road.
According to Deputy Jerry Yaldoo of the Addison Township sheriff’s Crash Reconstruction Unit, the Fiesta had actually been pushed away from the Edge during the initial head-on collision but was struck moments afterward by a 1997 Buick LeSabre. Gilles said he witnessed the second accident and how the hit with the Buick repositioned the car up against the Edge.
“We were the first [people] on the scene,” Gilles told the Oxford Leader. “It looked like it just happened based on the steam and the fact that the gentleman [driving the Edge] was clearly just getting out of his car.”
Initially, he and the drunk driver attempted to free the people trapped in the Fiesta as his wife contacted 911. Unable to do so, Gilles put a new plan into action as he noticed “tall flames coming from the SUV’s engine compartment.”
In the aftermath, he attributed the majority of his success to the vehicle he was in and not his own fast thinking to push the Edge out of the way. “I still have no idea where that [idea] came from,” Gilles told the reporter. “The only thing I can remember thinking [is] I’ve got a Jeep, it’s got a bumper on it, I think I can do this. All I could think about were the two people still inside the other car.”
“I figured the fire department would take a while to get there … at that time of day. I had to do something fast,” he continued. “I give the Jeep a lot of credit because had I been in my [Dodge] Challenger, I wouldn’t have had the traction to do it. Luckily, we had the Jeep that night. I put it in four-wheel drive and it worked perfectly.”
Addison Fire Chief Jerry Morawski called Gilles’ actions heroic. “I think the guy did a great job … it could have been worse [without him].”
However the FCA employee doesn’t think so. “Looking at the situation, there was no other option,” he said. “It’s important to stop (whenever there’s an accident). It’s kind of what you’re supposed to do. Every time I see something like that, I always at least inquire if they need help.”
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]