Walmart employee says ‘instincts’ helped him rescue man from burning car

ST. GEORGE — Saying he’d never “been brave enough to do anything like this ever in my life,” Jacob Hughes talked to St. George News about pulling a man from a burning car Sunday night just minutes before flames consumed and destroyed the vehicle.

Emergency responders said Hughes’ quick thinking likely saved the man’s life, though he said he only followed his instincts in the moment.

Flames consume a Ford Mustang after Jacob Hughes, of St. George, pulled the occupant of the vehicle to safety in St. George, Utah, May 27, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Chad Tipton, St. George News

Hughes, 28, of St. George, was on his way to work at the St. George Walmart for the night shift Sunday at about 10 p.m. when he noticed some orange light flickering from within a Ford Mustang in the parking lot of the nearby Wingate Hotel. The car was starting to catch fire from the inside.

Read more: Male injured after fire engulfs parked car

Hughes parked his car and considered calling 911, but decided to check first if anyone was in the burning car. He wasn’t able to see into it because of the flames and smoke until he made it to the driver’s side, where he was able to clearly see a man in the driver’s seat through the slightly-open window.

That was when he said his “panicked” instincts kicked in.

Into the frying pan

Hughes sprung into action as he started looking for a way to remove the man from the car.

“I saw the guy passed out in the car and a fire straight up in his lap as well as riding up the steering wheel column,” Hughes said.

In a “frenzy,” Hughes said he first tried opening the doors, which he discovered were locked. He wasn’t able to smash the windows of the Mustang with his fists. He unsuccessfully tried to reach his hand into the gap in the top of the window that was open to reach the lock. Nothing was working and the fire was quickly growing and spreading over the man.

Jacob Hughes, of St. George, was on his way to work when he stopped to pull a man from a burning car in St. George, Utah, May 27, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Jacob Hughes, St. George News

“It seemed my banging on the windows roused him a little bit, because he was able to barely move his arm up to the switch to roll the window all the way down for me,” Hughes said. “I was then able to reach in and grab the door handle to open the door.”

The man was also wearing his seatbelt and the buckle was out of reach and on fire. Hughes had a boxcutter on him because his job at Walmart involved opening boxes in the store’s frozen food and dairy departments. He was able to cut the top section and the bottom section of the seatbelt before quickly pulling the man to safety.

The man’s clothes, however, were still in flames. Hughes started putting the fire out on the man by beating out the flames with his hands and jacket while yelling at a woman nearby to call 911.

“I think when I opened the door, it fueled the fire a lot more, so it went up pretty quick after I pulled him out. It wasn’t long after I got the fire out on him when I had to drag him another 10 feet away from the car because it was getting too hot.”

In the few moments they were waiting for the ambulance, Hughes said he asked the man if he was OK. The man gently and painfully shook his head. It was the only response Hughes ever got from him, which he said was “surreal.”

See video of flames engulfing the Ford Mustang at the top of this post. Video courtesy of Chad Tipton

And out of the fire

A St. George Police officer arrived at the scene a short time later, and the St. George Fire Department arrived to squelch the flames as the man was whisked away in a Gold Cross ambulance.

The current condition of the man is not known to emergency responders at this time, but St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said the man, who had suffered several burns across his body, had been taken by an Intermountain Life Flight helicopter to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas for further treatment.

The identity of the injured man, who Hughes said appeared to be in his 50s, has not been released.

St. George Police officer Lona Trombley said Wednesday that the cause of the fire is still under investigation. The likely reason the man was not consumed by the fire was because Hughes was able to “remove the occupant from the vehicle as the fire continued to grow.”

Jacob Hughes’ jacket, which has burn marks after using it to pat down a fire on the man that Hughes pulled from a burning car in St. George, Utah, May 27, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Jacob Hughes, St. George News

The man is expected to survive and is being treated for his burns, she said.

“If nobody was around, or even if people were kind of around, they would have had to see the fire because he wasn’t able to call for help or anything,” Hughes said.

Hughes wasn’t seriously injured from the ordeal except some blisters on his hands from patting the flames down on the man and sore wrists from banging on the vehicle’s windows.

After the incident, Hughes went to work; he was 30 minutes late for his shift. After telling his manager what had just happened outside, Hughes said he was able to dutifully finish the rest of his graveyard shift.

Hughes also said he didn’t get a chance to thank the woman who called 911. There were some other people at the scene watching the fire, but Hughes said they didn’t offer any help or call 911. The woman’s quick response by calling 911 is another reason the man survived, he said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been brave enough to do anything like this ever in my life,” Hughes said. “But getting up to that car and seeing the guy on fire — apparently something kicked in my head where I just dropped everything I had and tried my best to do anything I could to save him.”

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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15 Comments

  • PatriotLiberal May 31, 2018 at 7:40 am

    This 28 year old man is a hero and a patriot. You bundy suppporters could learn something from him.

    • statusquo May 31, 2018 at 10:54 am

      Not sure how you can turn a fiery rescue into a political comment????

      • PatriotLiberal May 31, 2018 at 2:17 pm

        Nothing political about it. Heroes and patriots do things like pull people from fires. There’s nothing patriotic in not paying the grazing fees you agreed to pay simply because you don’t want to anymore. Similarly, there’s NOTHING patriotic about staging an armed takeover of a bird sanctuary in Oregon.

    • HerePliggyWiggy June 1, 2018 at 7:38 am

      I didn’t see Bundy mentioned in the article. Why did you bring him up?

  • Happy Day May 31, 2018 at 7:43 am

    Wow! What a happening.

  • Mean Momma May 31, 2018 at 7:45 am

    Amazing job Mr. Hughes!! You are a real hero!

  • Rob83 May 31, 2018 at 8:42 am

    Good job for being attentive and taking action when others didn’t. You’re a good man.

  • LunchboxHero May 31, 2018 at 8:53 am

    Way to go, fella! 🙂

  • comments May 31, 2018 at 11:32 am

    “Hughes wasn’t seriously injured from the ordeal except some blisters on his hands from patting the flames down on the man and sore wrists from banging on the vehicle’s windows.”

    Burn blisters on his hands and he worked his full shift? I’d think wally’s world could have given him the night off after that AND FULLY PAID. Good on him tho. Should get an award or something.

  • paul May 31, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    Nice job

  • Heather May 31, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    We all have that inner power ! Urs came out and u were able to save someone’s life! Way to go ! U are an amazing man !! 👍😎😁

  • mshaw May 31, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    I bet walmart coached Mr Hughes for helping the man as it’s there policy for putting himself in harm’s way! I’m glad you saved that man’s life!! But Wal-Mart could care less. That’s why I don’t shop there

    • observant one June 1, 2018 at 9:07 am

      If they could care less, it means they care. Now if they couldn’t care less, .. If you’re not a Walmart shopper, shouldn’t you be smart enough to use proper grammar?

      • comments June 1, 2018 at 2:31 pm

        grammar nazi. lmao.

      • mshaw June 3, 2018 at 8:59 am

        I’m sure your a left wing bigot that works at the spectrum

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