KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri State Trooper Jim Thuss had just started his shift when he spotted a Cadillac speeding on a stretch of highway in suburban Kansas City.
Activating his police lights and a video camera mounted on his dashboard, he turned his police cruiser around to issue his first ticket of the day.
That’s when an ordinary traffic stop turned into a high speed, albeit brief pursuit. Trying to elude the trooper, Thuss said the man behind the wheel quickly reached speeds approaching 120 mph.
Within just a few seconds, the suspect’s car spun out of control, plowing into the side of a Honda Civic traveling through an intersection.
“It instantly didn’t look good,” Thuss said, recalling the events for CNN. “There was a big plume of smoke, and then (another) big plume of smoke came from the Honda. I could see the fireball.”
Sixty-year-old Becky Crawford was driving her brand new Civic just a couple of miles away from her home. She was awake, but lay helpless and unable to move. According to her husband, Ronald Crawford, the impact broke over a half dozen bones all over her body, including multiple ribs and vertebrae in her back and her neck.
“The force of the seat belt cutting into her was so severe that it cut into her side,” he said, adding that she would later have bruises running from below her knee up to her waist.
The driver responsible for causing the wreck fled the scene on foot. Instead of chasing the driver, Thuss ran to Crawford’s car as flames started to spread.
An off-duty police officer and a good Samaritan who happened to be at the scene asked Thuss if they could help, and the 19-year police veteran told the other officer to go after the suspect.
“I’ve worked a thousand-plus accidents in my career, and once a car catches on fire, the time that they take to go up is pretty quick,” Thuss said.
“Most times you don’t have any time to get a fire like that out, especially one of that magnitude, so I just knew I had to get her out as soon as I could.”
As he approached the burning car, he could smell the gasoline that was leaking down the street. The car was struck at the rear door on the driver’s side, avoiding a direct hit with the mother of two, but causing the car’s tank to rupture.
Instead of dealing with the mangled metal on her side, Thuss entered from the passenger side.
“I climbed inside, undid her seat belt and asked if she was OK,” he said. “She said she was hurting but I told her I had to get her out of there. I grabbed her underneath her arms and around the shoulders and pulled her across the console and out of the car.”
Thuss carried her up a hill where he put her down, safely away from the growing flames. With his police cruiser dashcam recording the entire dramatic scene, roughly 90 seconds later the car exploded, becoming completely engulfed in fire.
Since hospitalization to treat her injuries, Crawford has started her long rehabilitation at a facility near her home. Her husband said his normally private wife wants people to know how grateful she is for the actions Thuss took in the seconds after the crash. They both have no doubt he saved her life.
“She remembers him reaching in to get her and talking to him … and she remembers he pulled her out of the car as she was looking back at the car and the flames leaping up,” Ronald Crawford said, holding back tears. He partly credits new technology in his wife’s 2015 Civic, and the deployment of side curtain airbags, for allowing her to survive such a violent crash, but repeatedly cites his faith as a reason why his wife survived.
“It’s just a miracle that she was not severely burned. And it’s also a miracle that he was there in time to pull her out, seconds before it would have been too late.”
It’s an overpowering feeling that drove Crawford to recently visit Thuss at his police station to personally thank him, telling him it was a disregard for his own life that saved his wife’s.
“It obviously means something to you when someone’s husband comes forward and thanks you,” Thuss said, “but that’s not why we do our jobs.”
“It’s been an extremely gratifying experience for me, but it’s also been quite humbling for me,” he said. “I’m just happy those kids still have their mother and that the driver was eventually caught. I’m just happy it all worked out like it did.”