Police & Fire

Westfield Man Pulls Two from Burning Car in Route 80 Accident

1521af9759c6a813cc7a_2dc0c6d291cfd534b755_image2__2_.JPG
Duncan Smythe of Westfield pulled the driver and a passenger from a vehicle that veered across Route 80, hit a car on the shoulder and burst into flames. Credits: Duncan Smythe
62cb815d67f6b866ded2_image1.PNG
Smythe's friend, Rudy Palma, captured this image of the fiery crash that occurred on July 4. Credits: Rudy Palma
1521af9759c6a813cc7a_2dc0c6d291cfd534b755_image2__2_.JPG

ROCKAWAY, NJ – When Duncan Smythe of Westfield left for a Fourth of July gathering at a friend’s home in Sussex County, he didn’t expect to pull two people from a fiery car after a crash on Route 80.

Smythe, 55, was driving west on Route 80 along with friend Rudy Palma when he saw a car veer across the road and strike a Toyota on the shoulder with what he described as “a lot of force.”

The driver of the vehicle on the shoulder, Michael O’Brien, 49, was outside of his car adjusting his bicycle when he was struck by Mary Potts, 72, and killed instantly, according to police. A rear passenger in his car, Mary Briggs, 69, was critically injured and taken to Morristown Medical Center, Trooper Lawrence Peele of the NJ State Police said.

Sign Up for E-News

“The two cars both left the ground, spun around, hit the guard rail and one car burst into flame immediately,” Smythe said. “I pulled over. The car I approached had smoke coming out from the hood, but fortunately the door was not locked.”

Smythe pulled Potts, who he described as disoriented, and her passenger out from the car. The passenger, who was at least 6-feet tall, was wedged under the dashboard, Smythe said.

“The car was fully engulfed in 90 seconds,” Smythe said. “It was a hell of a blaze.”

Smythe, who works a realtor, graduated from Westfield High School in 1970. He worked as a police officer in Bridgewater during the late 1970s and 1980’s and served as an EMT on the Westfield Rescue Squad for 25 years. That training kicked in as he approached the smoking car with focus and determination to act quickly, he said.

“All I was thinking was, ‘I have to get them out,’” he said. “I think because of experience I was just focused. People watch TV and think that cars explode, but they don’t. Gasoline doesn’t explode, it burns. People kept telling me that it was going to blow, but I knew it wasn’t going to.”

A few days later, Smythe said he’s reflecting on the adrenaline that kicked in when he saw the accident.

“Adrenaline is a wonderful thing,” Smythe said. “It didn’t occur to me that the man in the passenger seat outweighed me by at least 50 pounds and I picked him up like a feather. What they say about adrenaline is true.”

Despite his actions after the crash, Smythe prefers that well-wishers refrain from calling him a hero.

“Please don’t use the word hero,” he said. “I don’t like that. I was just lucky and happy that I was in the right place at the right time. I don’t really feel it was heroic. Guys losing their legs in Iraq are heroic.”

At this time, the crash remains under investigation, Peele said. He could not comment on Smythe’s actions at the scene.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Scotch Plains/Fanwood

Three School Buses Involved in Crash at Clark's ALJ High School

June 21, 2018

CLARK, NJ — Three buses collided in the Arthur L. Johnson High School parking lot around noon on Thursday in a chain-reaction crash. 

Students were on board at the time, according to Police Chief Pedro Matos. One driver and two students had minor injuries, Matos said.   

According to a Honeywell alert issued by the Clark Public School District, ...

Let's Talk About Suicide

In our world today, it seems our children, no matter the town, state, education, family unit, socioeconomic background, ethnicity or religion are grappling with complex, confounding and complicated issues not even fit for a middle-aged adult. Sadly, one of these issues is suicide. With mental health gaining more attention, the stigma appears to be dissipating but when a mental health ...

Is Summer Camp the Right Choice for My Child?

Is your child attending camp this summer? Is it their first experience away?  If yes, it can be an experience causing anxiety for you, for the parent and the child. 

This experience can be frightening to your child if it is their first time and it is so important that they do not see your worry or anxiety about leaving home for the first time… especially if it is sleep ...

What Are The Warning Signs of Suicide

The recent passings of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain remind us to take mental illness seriously. 

Many of us feel uncomfortable to ask when someone in distress is suicidal for fear we are putting this thought in their minds. This is not true. It is a myth that asking about suicide increases the risk of suicide. The most common mental illness is depression. Some people are ...

Greatness

In honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's (of righteous memory) 24th  Yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing) this coming Saturday the 16th.

Excerpts from an address given by Nobel-laureate Elie Wiesel on April 7, 1992, at a congressional dinner held in Washington on the occasion of the Rebbe's 90th birthday.

Some of you are aware of my admiration, not only ...

We Must Address The Unrealistic Affordable Housing Process Now

June 19, 2018

Dear Editor:

I would like to thank all the residents who attended and watched last Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting on over-development and legislative solutions with Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi and I. If you were unable to attend, I encourage you to watch the meeting on SPTV or the Township’s Facebook page at ().

The meeting was a real eye-opener for many of our residents. It ...

Imagine Hosts Annual Breakfast Fundraiser

June 23, 2018

SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Nearly 350 guests attended Imagine’s 7th annual breakfast fundraiser, Seasons of Hope, on June 6, at Shackamaxon Country Club in Scotch Plains.

"We especially want to thank our breakfast sponsors -- our platinum sponsor Merck, our bronze sponsors ConnectOne Bank and Northfield Bank, the volunteers and donors that contributed to the breakfast” said Imagine ...

Upcoming Events

Mon, June 25, 9:00 AM

Terrill Road Baptist Chruch, Scotch Plains

LifeWay’s 2018 Vacation Bible School at Terrill ...

Religions And Spirituality

Carousel_image_e7f536b6a6ef324691b9_swim-a-palooza_swimmers_in_lanes

Sun, July 8, 9:00 AM

Highland Swim Club, Scotch Plains

Resolve's Third Annual Swim-A-Palooza Party on ...