Bethel employee pulls driver from flaming wreckage

Phouthone “Chan” Chanhthanam

Bethel maintenance technician Phouthone “Chan” Chanhthanam insists he’s not a hero. He says anyone in his position would have done the same thing.

But the truth is not everyone would crawl inside a burning vehicle to pull a stranger from the fiery wreckage of a car crash.

Yet that’s exactly what Chan did on Sunday evening when he saw a violent car wreck at the intersection of 46th Avenue East and 208th Street East in Spanaway.

Chan, who has been a member of the Bethel family for four years, was heading home from Home Depot when he witnessed the crash. He said a speeding sedan failed to stop at the intersection and barreled into another car.

After the impact, a stunned Chan got out of his car and immediately began evaluating the situation.

“I told my phone, I said, ‘Siri, call 911!’” he said.

Then he ran to vehicle that had been hit.

“I saw they were okay, so I shifted my attention to the other car. The moment I looked at the car, I already saw a fire,” Chan said.

Photo courtesy of Pierce County Professional Firefighters

Chan and a second Good Samaritan rushed over to the burning vehicle and saw an injured man inside who wasn’t able to free himself from the mangled car.

“I stopped. I was thinking, what am I doing now? Should I go in there and help him, or should we stay back. I thought it was going to explode,” Chan said.

The second Good Samaritan opened the passenger side door and attempted to remove the injured driver, but Chan said he wasn’t able to lift him.

That’s when Chan decided to act.

“(The injured driver) was trying to get out, and that’s when I thought, man, he might die,” he said. “I went in and I bear hugged the guy and dragged him right out.”

As he was pulling the injured driver from the car, the smoke and fire intensified inside the vehicle.

“Then the smoke started brewing inside,” Chan said. “You could see a real fire starting to burn the tires and the gas tank, and then the engine is burning and here I am standing right in front of it like I’m in a movie. It was so surreal.”

Chan was able to free the man and drag him roughly 15 yards away to safety. By that time several other drivers had stopped and neighbors where coming outside to offer help.

Medics, fire fighters and police soon arrived, followed by members of the media. Neither Chan nor the other Good Samaritan were interested in speaking to the media, so both men gave statements to authorities and went on their way.

The entire frightening incident lasted just minutes, but it seemed like longer to Chan. He’s now had a few days to decompress and think about what happened. He’s glad that it appears everyone survived the crash, and he says he’s not a hero for doing what he did.

“I don’t think I am. Other people would have done the same thing,” he said. “It could happen to me, you, anybody, but at least there are people with good hearts that will go over there and save people.”

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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