CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. — A North Carolina Highway Patrol trooper is being called a hero after he pulled a mother and a 5-year-old boy from a burning car following a deadly crash in Catawba County on Tuesday night.
The wreck happened along Highway 321 near the River Road Exit, south of Hickory, at about 5:50 p.m.
According to the Highway Patrol, Trooper K.L. Huss clocked a Dodge Charger heading northbound on Highway 321 speeding faster than 100 mph in a 65 mph zone. Moments later, another trooper saw the same Charger going faster than 130 mph and weaving through traffic.
Trooper Huss tried to catch up to the Charger and came upon a large cloud of dust and debris and realized the car had crashed. Investigators said the Charger went through a guardrail and down a steep embankment and hit a tree before catching fire. Huss wasn’t close enough to see the crash.
The Highway Patrol said Trooper Huss found the driver, identified as 27-year-old Andre Darrell Lee of Grover, South Carolina, unconscious. Huss then found a child and a woman in the wreckage screaming for help. Huss was able to free the boy, who was in a booster seat, from the car and handed him to a bystander.
As the car was smoking and the flames were beginning to spread, authorities said Huss crawled back into the vehicle and was able to cut the woman free from her seatbelt and pulled her through the back window to safety.
Shortly after getting her out of the car, the Charger was engulfed in flames.
Lee did not survive.
“In this day and age, it was heroic,” Sgt. Matt Futrell said. “He didn’t even think of his own safety, his well-being. (He) immediately put that aside and did what we all, in this profession, do. We have an oath, we serve and protect, and that’s what he did.”
The 5-year-old boy and 23-year-old woman, both from Grover, South Carolina also, were taken to Catawba Valley Medical Center but will be OK, troopers said. The child was later transferred to Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem for observation.
Investigators think Lee may have been trying to flee “due to illegal contraband in the vehicle.”
Derek Papesh was on his way home from work when he saw the car blow by him on Highway 321 and then moments later spotted the crash scene.
“I could hear some people yelling for help,” Papesh said. “The trooper had gotten the child out.”
Papesh says he tried to help Huss rescue the woman and the boy. Channel 9 also spoke with a woman who cared for the little boy as flames began to spread across the car.
“He got the woman out but as he was bringing her up the hill, the car caught fire and blew up,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the trooper being as quick as he was, I don’t think anybody would have made it.”
Papesh believes Trooper Huss is a hero for risking his own life to save others he didn’t know.
“After I wrote a statement, he did say ‘thank you’ and shook my hand, but he was truly the hero of the night because without what he did, those people could have died,” Papesh said.
The crash remains under investigation.
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