Heroes honored for pulling woman from burning car seconds before it burst into flames

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, April 3, 2019

LAPLACE — Four men who made national news in February for pulling a woman from a fiery car crash have been formally recognized for their life-saving actions.

Miles Bourgeois, Byron Gilcrease, Vince Lejeune and Jeremy Zeringue were weary about accepting the hero label. After the accident, they spoke of being at the right place at the right time and having a normal, human reaction.

Zeringue, of Gonzales, was the first to take note of a Nissan Altima swerving erratically in the early morning of Feb. 19. He called 9-1-1 and trailed the vehicle until it crashed into the back of an Infiniti Q70 in Garyville.

Haley Ilg, 41, of Prarieville, was trapped inside as the vehicle combusted.

Gilcrease was in the kitchen of his nearby home when he heard the crash and rushed to the highway, as Lejeune and Bourgeois jumped out of their vehicles to assist in the rescue.

The fire was twice the size of the car and had overtaken the back seats when the four men joined forces to pull Ilg out of the window just in the nick of time and carry her to the grassy median. She was a safe distance from the blaze when sirens began to blare with the approach of emergency response teams.

The scene after the crash in Garyville was filled with smoke and fire.

Ilg was in a wheelchair at the March 26 St. John the Baptist Parish Council meeting, looking on as her four rescuers were presented plaques of recognition from the Parish Council, the St. John Sheriff’s Office and Marathon Petroleum Company.

The wreck left her with moderate injuries treated by surgery, and she is on the road to recovery.

Ilg’s husband, Walter, expressed his gratitude to the men for their compassion during and after the rescue.

“The next day, I was with her in the hospital, and we started to get personal text messages and calls from these gentlemen asking what they could do for her; when they could send flowers and when they could come visit her,” Walter Ilg said.

“There’s really nothing that can express your gratitude for this heroism. Two of the gentlemen were burned themselves. She didn’t even have a singed hair on her body.”

While presenting the first round of plaques, Parish President Natalie Robottom said there was “no doubt” the wreck could have resulted in a fatality if not for the bravery of the good Samaritans.

Sheriff Mike Tregre offered the four men the Lifesaving Award for saving or prolonging another’s life beyond reasonable expectation.

“What you did that day was give us a glimpse at humanity,” Tregre said.

“It gave us all a view that there are still good people on this planet. What you guys did was truly a miracle. I truly believe, another 30 seconds, and it would have been tragic.”

Jim Manning, environmental safety and security manager for Marathon, awarded plaques in thanks for saving his employee’s life, adding Ilg is “a treasure to Marathon.”

Each of the Parish Council members addressed the men with accolades, and Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard said their good deed should set an example to others.

Also recognized at the meeting was Anita Haley, who filmed the video of the lifesaving act that quickly circulated to news organizations around the country.

The vehicle that crashed into Ilg’s car was driven by 22-year-old Richard Preston of Paradis.

Preston voluntarily submitted to a drug test and was booked in St. John Parish for D.W.I., reckless operation, unauthorized use of a movable and first-degree vehicular negligent injury.

John Lejeune, Jeremy Zeringue, Byron Gilcrease and Miles Bourgeois pull a woman out of a burning car seconds before the flames overtook the vehicle Monday morning in Garyville.