Video: Good Samaritans save life after suspected drunken driver smashes into unsuspecting motorist

Published 12:15 am Saturday, February 23, 2019

GARYVILLE — A 41-year-old Prairieville woman is recovering from moderate injuries following a fiery St. John the Baptist Parish car wreck that would have turned fatal if not for the bravery of four good Samaritans.

Jeremy Zeringue, Byron Gilcrease, Miles Bourgeois and John Lejeune are seen in a video that made national headlines this week, tugging furiously to pull a woman out the driver’s side window of her burning car after she was hit by an alleged drunken driver Monday morning on Airline Highway in Garyville.

The fire was twice the size of the car and had overtaken the back seats of the vehicle when she was rescued in the nick of time and carried to the grassy median, just as sirens began to blare with the approach of emergency response teams.

According to Louisiana State Police, Richard Preston, 22, of Paradis was driving a 2019 Nissan Ultima that slammed into the back of the Prairieville woman’s 2015 Infiniti Q70 at 6:45 a.m. Monday.

Preston voluntarily submitted to a drug test and was treated for moderate injuries. He was booked Monday in St. John the Baptist Parish for D.W.I., reckless operation, unauthorized use of a movable and first-degree vehicular negligent injury, State Police spokesperson Melissa Matey said.

He remained in custody as of Friday.

An analysis of toxicology is pending with the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab.

Jeremy Zeringue, of Gonzales, was nearly struck by the Ultima while driving home from work through Sorrento at 6:30 a.m. Monday, as Preston allegedly ramped the median and swerved erratically into oncoming traffic.

With a bad feeling in his gut, Zeringue called 9-1-1 and trailed the Nissan at a high speed down Airline Highway from Sorrento into Garyville.

“I thought, this guy is either diabetic and low on sugar, or he’s drunk,” Zeringue said. “I need to follow him because he’s going to end up really hurting somebody.”

Zeringue’s prediction rang true when the Ultima swerved once more, overcorrected and slammed into the back of the Infiniti at a red light at the intersection of Louisiana 54 in Garyville.

The impact pushed the Infiniti into a dump truck just before the back of the vehicle burst into flames at 6:45 a.m., trapping the 41-year-old Paradis woman inside.

The Ultima was moved into a nearby McDonald’s parking lot, away from the blaze.

The scene Monday morning, moments after the crash in Garyville, was filled with smoke and fire.

Zeringue informed the 9-1-1 operator of the crash before throwing his phone to the side and leaping out of his car to help.

Byron Gilcrease and his wife were making coffee in the kitchen of their Garyville home when they heard a loud boom across the street.

Gilcrease looked out the window and saw the Infiniti engulfed in flames as his wife exclaimed they needed to help however possible.

Hopping into an ATV with a hatchet on hand, they sped out onto the highway so quickly everything became a blur except for the task before them.

Meanwhile, Miles Bourgeois and another bystander, Jason Brignac, were at the red light, several cars behind the wreck when they saw rising flames.

Brignac recalls seeing Preston jump out of his car and into a ditch, as a small crowd of bystanders followed.

Using weight machine equipment stored in his car, Brignac approached the Infiniti and started slamming the window to break the glass, to no avail.

He stepped back, fearful the car would explode, when another man ran on scene with a fire extinguisher from McDonald’s.

Bourgeois arrived soon after, not knowing what he was walking into.

Impact damage from front and rear collisions lodged the Infiniti’s doors shut, Bourgeois said, and the fire extinguisher was running out of power when one of the men successfully busted the window.

From there, the men began to pull the woman’s arms out.

The St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office reported one of the four brave responders to pull the victim through the window was John Legeune, who could not be reached for comment this week.

It wasn’t until the woman was rescued and carried across the road that Bourgeois recognized her as one of his coworkers from Marathon.

“I challenged my sanity for a moment, but when the guy broke the window and I saw someone in the car, there was no way I was going to let that lady burn,” Bourgeois said.

“Most of the time, we hear bad things in our society, but it was not only me but three other guys who risked their life to help someone’s sister, mother or daughter.”

Brignac watched the scene unfold and described the four men as guardian angels. The experience taught him things can change in a heartbeat, and that kindness is vital in this world because good deeds have a contagious energy.

During the rescue, Zeringue sustained a minor burn to his hand, while another responder suffered facial burns.

Watching the video fills Zeringue with anxiety of what could have happened, but the lesson he takes away is, “If you see something, say something.” Had he not reacted to Preston’s erratic driving, he would not have assisted in the rescue.

Gilcrease, a Garyville resident of more than 20 years, was the fourth man seen on the video, jumping in to pull the woman by the waist to pull her to safety.

“The fire was completely in the backseat,” Gilcrease said. “In my opinion, she didn’t have but seconds more before she was completely engulfed in those flames.”

However, Gilcrease said he and others are hesitant to accept the hero label.

“I wasn’t thinking of anything else besides trying to help this woman out of the car,” Gilcrease said.

“I’m a normal, everyday guy. I was in the right place in the right time with a reaction.”

When reached by L’OBSERVATEUR this week, the victim’s husband said his wife is awaiting surgery and does not wish to have her identity released at this time.

He said his wife is doing well and on track to recovery thanks to lifesaving actions though the family is struggling to make sense of the collision.

St. John Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre plans to recognize the four rescuers at a 6:30 p.m. Parish Council meeting March 26 in LaPlace.