WOONSOCKET — A Blackstone man is in critical condition at Rhode Island Hospital after being assisted by passing motorists and rescue personnel at the scene of a fiery single-car crash on Route 99 Thursday afternoon.
John Leclaire, 38, of 198 Farm St., Blackstone, was driving north on Route 99 past Sayles Hill Road just before 1 p.m. when his red Kia Sportage veered suddenly to the right, left the roadway and collided with an outcropping of ledge, according to State Police Lt. Douglas Newberg.
The driver was airlifted from the crash scene by a Boston Medflight helicopter to Rhode Island Hospital where he was listed in critical condition.
Newberg, shift commander at State Police Headquarters, said there were no signs on the road that Leclaire attempted to brake prior to the crash.
“He just veered off the road for some reason and went into the rock,” Newberg said. Police were investigating the possibilities that the driver had a medical problem prior to the accident or fell asleep at the wheel and were looking for witnesses to the incident, Newberg said.
The Kia traveled about 100 to 150 feet along the grass off the roadway before contacting the rock outcropping, he said. The driver was found wearing a seatbelt and the vehicle’s airbag also deployed, according to Newberg. The crash was reported to have started a fire under the vehicle and motorists stopped along 99 were reported to have used small fire extinguishers to control the flames until rescue personnel arrived on scene.
Jimmy Sanford, 53, of Johnston, driving a pick-up, and his passenger, Eric Maslona, 45, of Warwick, came upon other cars stopped near the crash scene while heading north on Route 99 and pulled over.
Other drivers at the scene told the pair someone was inside the wrecked Kia and they went to check his condition.
The victim was pinned in the car but alive and moaning and groaning in pain, Sanford said.
Spotting flames breaking out below the passenger compartment, Maslona said the men went back to the roadway and flagged down the driver of a car carrier coming to the area to get fire extinguishers.
The bystanders used four or five vehicle extinguishers to beat back the flames erupting into the passenger compartment until firefighters and rescue personnel were on scene, Sanford and Maslona said.
The victim did appear to have suffered burns to his legs and had to be removed from the vehicle by firefighters using jaws-of-life equipment after the fire was put out, they said.
“We did our best to get the fire out but as far as getting him out, that wasn’t happening without the jaws-of-life,” Maslona said.
The men had no idea that they would soon be involved in a life-or-death situation when they turned onto Route 99 Thursday afternoon, Sanford said. “We tried. Hopefully he’s still living,” he said.
Maslona also voiced concern for Leclaire’s well-being. “As bad as that car looks, it’s a miracle he is alive,” Maslona said. “God was sitting at his side if he is alive,” he said.
Newberg credited the passersby with helping to keep the driver from being more seriously injured. Late reports from the hospital indicated that while critically injured, it appeared he would recover, Newberg said.
“That’s tremendous,” he said of the motorists’ assistance. “It may have saved his life and kept him from getting additional injuries,” Newberg said.
Police from Woonsocket, Lincoln and North Smithfield blocked off access to Route 99 while Leclaire was assisted and the helicopter landed on the northbound lanes of the highway. Rescue personnel from surrounding communities, including Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket and North Smithfield, assisted the extrication at the scene. The southbound lanes of the highway reopened after the helicopter flew off the roadway and the northbound lanes later when the accident wreckage had been removed.
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