Around 5:30 p.m. last Sunday, Gregory Gabrielle, of Black Creek Road was traveling South on Matson road when he ran off the East side of the road and hit a tree, causing his car to spin and face North, as the engine caught fire with Gabrielle trapped inside.
A local business owner, Mickey Brislin, 61, drove by minutes later and saw the burning vehicle. He rushed to try and free Gabrielle.
Columbus native, Brislin, is owner and president of Brislin Inc., a mechanical contracting company that has done air conditioning, heating, ventilation, plumbing, process piping and site utility work since 1956. Brislin has worked in the company since 1966.
Brislin said he noticed smoke as he drove from his farm, entering Matson Road from Military Road Sunday afternoon.
“The first thing I thought was that someone was burning something at the top of the hill. As I got to the top of the hill, there was a car down in the woods and it was on fire. So I stopped. The road isn’t heavily trafficked at all, only about six or seven residents on Matson, as you enter my residential section.
“I saw a person in the car, and the engine compartment was on fire. I called OnStar from my truck and told them to send an ambulance and a fire truck immediately.”
Brislin grabbed a hammer, knife, and crowbar from his truck’s toolbox and ran to the vehicle.
“I tried to use the crowbar and (the side door) just wouldn’t open but I was able to get the back door open behind the driver.”
Brislin said that Gabrielle was unresponsive and bound to his seat by the seatbelt and airbag.
“I got inside and I cut the safety belt off him. His legs were pinned underneath the steering column and so I also cut the airbag, which was putting pressure on him. I was trying to get his feet out from under the steering column… I cut his shoelaces to try to get his feet out of his shoes, which might have been pinning him in, but I could see that he was in pain every time I was moving his feet.”
At this point Brislin was starting to overheat.
“I was very, very heated myself and was just hoping that I would not pass out in that backseat. I couldn’t get him out. He was about a 250 lb. man and was just too large for me to even begin to move him and he couldn’t help himself. I got out and I thought to myself that either I was going to watch him burn up in this car or I was going to have to go get some help.”
Brislin ran to the house across the street from where the car went over. The house belonged to highway patrolman Derrick Beckom, who had just arrived home.
“I hollered at him to please come help and to bring his fire extinguisher and we together ran back to the car,” said Brislin. “And we were able to get him into the backseat. The driver, Mr. Gabrielle had somehow or another freed his legs and he was on the console and was on fire too at this time. His pants legs were on fire.
“So we sprayed the fire extinguisher on him to put the flames out and we were able to get him out through the backseat. About 20 ft. from the vehicle, as we were dragging him, the vehicle exploded.”
Brislin said that the entire event took about 20 minutes total. As the ambulance, sheriffs office and District 2 Fire Department emergency personnel arrived, Brislin and Beckom were pouring water, brought by Beckom’s sons, Jamie and Derrick Beckom Jr. over Gabrielle to cool him off. Gabrielle was brought to BMH-GT with severe burns on his legs.
According to Brislin, saving Gabrielle would not have been possible without the Highway Patrolman’s help.
“If I hadn’t had the highway patrolman, I would have never gotten him out. There was nobody coming by… he would have burned up, died right there,” said Brislin.
When asked about if he thought for his personal safety, Brislin said he couldn’t not help. “I never watched anybody burn up in a vehicle, that would have been horrifying to me. I had to do something… that was it. I just had to do something.”
Brislin said that Gabrielle’s wife called him after the accident to tell him her husband’s status. Gabrielle was airlifted out to a burn center in Jackson, with third degree burns on his legs. Brislin also mentioned that Gabrielle was a diabetic and had an insulin pump.
Brislin, who has a wife, two children, and a three-year-old granddaughter said that his family was concerned for his safety, but were very proud of him. He also says he is planning to carry a fire extinguisher with him at all times from now on in case he is needed again.0