Wrestler grapples with scary pin in fiery crash
NILES, Mar 09, 2013 (South Bend Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
With a 55-4 record this season as a 189-pound varsity wrestler at Niles High School, Ryan Casey is accustomed to pinning opponents.
But finding a passenger's legs pinned beneath the dashboard of a burning car That's a scary proposition that makes wrestling seem tame.
As Casey, 18, a senior at Niles, recalls it, he was just waking up about 2 a.m. Sunday in the school van that was taking him and assistant coaches Tom Desenberg and Jake Gluekert home from the state wrestling finals in Auburn Hills, Mich. Still groggy, he was only vaguely aware of Desenberg, the van driver, pulling the vehicle over on the southbound lanes of the St. Joseph Valley Parkway near the Niles-Buchanan Road overpass.
"I thought maybe we'd been stopped by a cop or something until I saw this orange reflection off to the side," Casey said. "Coach Desenberg said, 'There's a car on fire, call 911.' That's when coach Gluekert woke up and told me to look in the back for a fire extinguisher."
Unable to find one, Casey ran over to the burning auto on the side of the highway and spotted Galien resident Jennifer Scot, who had been driving the 2002 Mitsubishi, standing by the car and frantically talking to a police dispatcher on Desenberg's cell phone. Casey said Scot appeared to be in shock and wasn't making sense, so he took over the phone conversation.
Meanwhile, Desenberg had opened the car door and was trying to free passenger Maxwell Robinson, also of Galien, as smoke poured from under the hood.
"I handed the phone to Jake ... and could see Coach Desenberg was trying to pull him (Robinson) out, but he could only get him halfway out because his legs were stuck," Casey said. "Coach Desenberg said he called me over but I don't remember that. It wasn't about strength, but I got one of his legs out pretty good. The other one, there was a light or something in the way but I moved it and got the other one out.
"I yelled to Coach Desenberg to get his legs. I got his body. We carried him about 100 yards away."
Only a minute or two later, Casey said, the fire spread to the cabin, and shortly after that it reached the gas tank, triggering an explosion. There's no doubt, he said, that Robinson, estimated by Casey to weigh some 230 pounds, wouldn't have survived had the trio not arrived when they did.
"During the whole thing, two cars drove by and didn't stop," he said.
A series of circumstances contributed to their arrival at that exact time and place, he said, from their stopping in Detroit for dinner to the location of Casey's home.
"If I lived on the other side of town, he'd (Desenberg) have taken the Walton Road exit," he said.
Both Scot and Robinson were taken to Memorial Hospital, South Bend, where Scot was treated and released and Robinson was reported in good condition the next day. For Casey, there was sudden celebrity beyond his fifth-place finish in the state finals, with three newspapers and a local television station approaching him for interviews.
"Some of the guys in my manufacturing class ... have been giving me a hard time about some of my quotes," he said, smiling.
He said, too, that he received a telephone call from his older sister, Heather, about 2:30 a.m. while he was still at the crash scene.
"She asked where I was at, and I told her we were at a car accident where we had pulled a guy out of his car. She didn't believe me at all," he said.
She does now.
Staff writer Lou Mumford:
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