Richard Krochta is a hero. As far as Colorado State Patrol is concerned, it’s not even debatable.
Krochta, 56, was driving his semi west on U.S. 24 just west of Woodland Park on his way from Colorado Springs to the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine, a drive he makes daily for his job as a hauler for Savage Services. It was just before 4 a.m. Something was different. Lights were shining along the side of the road where they normally don’t. It was a fresh car crash, and the vehicle was beginning to burn.
“I saw the car light up on fire, so I just jumped out of my truck, grabbed my fire extinguisher, and called 911 at the same time,” Krochta said. “As I’m putting the fire out, I can hear somebody yelling, ‘Help me! Help me!'”
The minivan had gone off the right shoulder when the driver, described as a man in his late 60s, fell asleep at the wheel. It struck a pine tree, breaking it in half, then came to rest about 15 feet off the side of the road.
“I couldn’t get in the driver’s door because of all the tree limbs, so I ran around the other side and that side was also blocked by a tree,” Krochta said.
The door was only able to open wide enough for the driver to stick his head out for fresh air as the cabin began to fill with smoke.
Krochta, a firefighter for nearly 30 years in Pennsylvania, had to “muscle the driver door open,” according to State Patrol, in an attempt to free the man inside.
“I just grabbed him and yanked him out and he’s going, ‘she’s in there, she’s in there’,” Krochta said.
Initially, he didn’t see the woman in the passenger seat because of the smoke, as well as the fact that the man had climbed into the passenger seat as it appeared to be the only possible way out.
“I went back in the vehicle, and I could see her. She was underneath the dashboard and laying on the seat. I just looked to see if she that she wasn’t trapped, so I just grabbed her and yanked he through and took her away from the vehicle.”
Krochta said the opening he had to pull them through was only about a foot-and-a-half wide.