A Newfoundland cabbie who rescued four people from a car before it erupted in flames says people are making too much of a fuss over a simple act of human decency.
It was shortly after 2 a.m. on Sunday and Jiffy Cabs driver Mike Stapleton had just dropped off passengers in the Shea Heights neighbourhood of St. John’s when he drove past a smoking car crashed into a concrete post under an overpass.
He says he saw “lights and the smoke coming from the bottom of the car. I figured someone, you know, had a few [drinks] and ditched it or something on the way home. But I said, ‘I’d better check,'” Stapleton told As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay.
“So I got out and I looked over, and my god, the screams coming out of the girls.”
Stapleton says there were four young people in the car.
The male driver and another man in the backseat were both passed out. Two women, one in the front and one in the back, were trapped inside and screaming for help.
He ran back to his cab and told his dispatcher to send help, then quickly returned to the wreck and said to himself, “I better get them out.”
First, he said, he hauled out the man in the backseat and dragged him to the nearby sidewalk. Then he turned his attention to the girl beside him, whose foot was caught underneath the driver’s seat.
“I had a job getting the girl out of the car, as her foot was either broke [or], you know, twisted,” he said.
I said, ‘Almighty God, if you’re up there, give me strength.’– Mike Stapleton, taxi driver
But he said he managed to free her and drag her to safety beside the other man.
By this point, the woman in the front had grown frantic, he said. The door was jammed, and she was shouting, “Don’t leave me!”
He tried three times to pry the door open, he said, all to no avail. He tried ripping it off, but that didn’t work either.
“I crawled inside the car and tried to get the door to force it open. No way. And I was panicking, because she was screaming, right?” he said.
“I said, ‘Almighty God, if you’re up there, give me strength.’ B’y, sure enough, he gave it to me. The door came open. So there it is.”
Only the driver remained inside the car. He was unconscious and covered in blood, and Stapleton was hesitant to move him.
“But then I saw the flame. A little flame starting to come down to the dashboard dropping on the floor. I said, ‘You got to go out of here,'” he said.
“I just undid his seatbelt and lifted him about 20 feet away from the car, right? Dragged him up and laid him on the sidewalk. They’re all on the sidewalk. Oh my God, it was a horror story, I tell you.”
By then, another taxi driver and a couple of bystanders had shown up at the scene, Stapleton said. He enlisted their help moving the four victims farther away from the car.
“I said, ‘That’s going to blow.’ Never had the words out of my mouth … and the flames started coming up,” he said. “And my heart went up in my mouth.”
That’s when the police showed up, he said.
“[The officer] pulled right in front of the car and — kaboom! The car blew up. So then it got real,” Stapleton said with a chuckle.
‘They’re making too much of it’
A spokesperson for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said officers responded to the scene of a single-vehicle collision Sunday morning in St. John’s and found a car “engulfed in flames” and all four occupants safety removed.
They were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Police are still investigating the cause of the crash.
“Their families are after calling me and thanking me for saving their lives,” Stapleton said. “Pretty humbling.”
But Stapleton says he just did what any decent person would do in that situation.
“I think they’re making too much of it,” he said. “Listen, you’re a human being, you got to do it. You see smoke, you’ve got to remove them. That’s the law of the land.”
His boss, Jiffy Cabs owner Chris Hollett, says Stapleton is worthy of the praise.
“Mike’s pretty bashful and humble, so he’s not one for wanting attention,” Hollett told the Telegram newspaper. “But he deserves the recognition for what he did.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Mike Stapleton produced by Ashley Mak.