Thirty-five-year-old Spencer Uber had dropped off his brother at work at the Blazing Onion restaurant in Silverdale, and was driving home to Bremerton under cloudy skies around 11:30 Thursday morning.
That’s when he saw something shocking.
A white Chevrolet Camaro was jammed against the guardrail in the far right lane on southbound Route 303, engulfed in flames. A man appeared to be trapped inside, unable to open the door.
“I could see him panicking and waving his arms,” Uber said. “The whole inside of the car was engulfed.”
Uber, a cook at the same Blazing Onion and a graduate of Bremerton High School, immediately pulled over. He had volunteered as a firefighter and paramedic with Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue in his twenties.
“My main concern was that this guy probably has a family,” he said. “It’s not his time to go.”
Around the same time, 56-year-old Terrance Billy, a retired Bremerton resident originally from New Orleans, saw the flames and also pulled over to help.
Uber opened the car door and began to pull the victim out. Billy joined, and the two managed to get him out of the car and to safety.
Moments later, they heard explosions.
“As soon as we pulled him out, the car went ‘boom,” Billy said. “All four of the tires went first.”
The windows blew out. The rest of the car continued to burn.
The man’s jacket was melted, his hair scorched, and he seemed lethargic, Uber said. He was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with burns, according to a Washington State Patrol spokesperson.
The man’s name has not been released. State troopers described him as a 70-year-old male. Uber said he wore a military veterans hat, and had military bumper stickers on his car.
The man told Uber and Billy that the fire started after a lit cigarette landed in his lap. As the flames spread, the car veered and struck the guardrail. The car was still running and in drive when Uber showed up, he said.
CKFR fire chief John Oliver said Uber and Billy were instrumental in the rescue.
“The two passersby stopped and pulled him out of the car,” Oliver said. “They were pulling him out when I got there.”
Firefighters managed to put out the flames, leaving a charred wreck.
Uber said he was still a little shaken up while describing the experience Thursday night. He recalled his training as a volunteer with CKFR.
“That training came into play and helped,” he said.
Billy, who lives in Bremerton with his wife Suzanne Tipton, called the incident his “reasonable service.”
“I’m a Christian. I believe in God, and in helping people,” he said. “That was my reasonable service today, to help save a life.”
Uber said despite his training, today a decade distant, he’d never been in a situation quite like that.
“You never really know what’s going to happen until it happens, at the last minute,” he said.
“I just did what any Good Samaritan would do.”
A spokesperson for the University of Washington said the victim was in “satisfactory condition” at the hospital Thursday.