Heroes honored in West Penn
andrew leibenguth/times news Larry Zeigler, left, president, West Penn Fire Company is pictured with heroes Terry Rothermel from Robesonia; Duane McGrath from Palmerton; James Yaro from Lehighton; accident victim Kimberly Frey, 23, with her daughter Elizabeth Murton, 6; and West Penn Police Chief Brian Johnson.
A "hero" by definition is a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities from a heroic act.
That sentence best describes the actions of three individuals who were in the right place at the right time.
On Tuesday morning, Jan. 24, in West Penn Township, while preparing to stop on Archery Club Road, Kimberly Frey, 23, of Tamaqua, with her 6-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Murton, who was strapped in a car seat in the back seat, pumped her brakes as she approached the SR443 intersection.
A quick freeze made roads throughout the area icy that night, making for many icy spots. Unable to stop on the ice, her 2003 Buick LaSabre continued past the stop sign and onto SR443 north, where it was impacted on its driver's side by a large white crane truck, driving north on SR443, operated by Terry Rothermel of Bartush Signs in Orwigsburg.
The force of the impact smashed Frey's car against the side of the truck and then onto a nearby berm.
Immediately after the impact, Rothermel, who suffered minor injuries, got out of his truck, called 911, and noticed flames shooting from the engine compartment. He quickly ran over to the wreckage, where he noticed a woman leaning motionless over the steering wheel and a young girl strapped in a car seat crying in the back seat.
With flames rising from the engine compartment and smoke filling the car, Rothermel, without regards for his own safety, jumped into action. At the same moment, Jim Yaro and Duane McGrath, both driving separate tractor trailers owned by New England Motor Freight of Lehighton, were traveling opposite directions on SR443 when they came across the accident scene. Rothermel, unable to open any of the locked doors, tried using his fist to smash through the window, without success. Noticing the growing flames and smoke, both Yaro and McGrath ran up to the burning car with fire extinguishers from their tractor trailers. They then used the extinguisher to lessen the flames.
Despite this, the flames kept coming, as the ignition was still running and shooting ignited fuel. Working together, the three used a hammer from one of the trucks to break the glass, unlock the doors and pull the woman and young girl out of the smoke-filled car.
In seconds, the car was completely filled with smoke. Firefighters with the West Penn Fire Company arrived and extinguished the fire, which was shooting inside the car at this time.
"If the car was left alone another minute or two, it would have been completely engulfed in flames," said Clint Schock, assistant chief, West Penn Fire Company.
When asked about the incident, the main thing Yaro remembered was hearing the screams of the young girl as her mother lay unconscious.
The three rescuers, who never met Frey or her daughter before, said that they weren't heroes and anyone would have done the same if they were in their shoes.
McGrath pointed out that the girl was terrified, adding, "No matter how much we tried the fire wouldn't go away."
"Seeing fear in the young girl's eyes, we were panic stricken and trying to do the right thing," added McGrath.
West Penn Police Chief Brian Johnson and responding officer Melisa Bower pointed out the heroism all the men exhibited that morning. Frey suffered a fractured collar bone and concussion. Elizabeth was lucky to only suffer from a bump to her forehead.
An appreciation dinner was provided recently for McGrath, Rothermel, Yaro and all emergency responders, courtesy of Frey's family, the West Penn Fire Company and West Penn Police Department. Frey's family expressed their appreciation to all who helped save Kim and Elizabeth's life that morning.
Frey only remembers seeing the white truck and waking up in an ambulance.
"If it wasn't for these heroes," she said, "my daughter and myself would not be here today."