At the site of a fatal crash, Officer Jimmy Jalil of the Boca Raton (Fla.) Police Department shot out a window to rescue a young woman from a burning vehicle. For his actions, Jalil has been named the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Officer of the Month for March 2011.
It happened on Dec. 1, 2010, just before 8 p.m., when the driver of a Chevy Trailblazer lost control of the vehicle, which flipped and hit a pole on I-95. The driver and one passenger were ejected. A female passenger, the only one wearing a seat belt, remained pinned in the front passenger seat as the engine erupted in flames on impact.
Several people had stopped on the side of the road to help. Two of them approached Officer Jalil, the first officer on scene, to get him up to speed. One of the men, Lawrence Estaban, was a retired firefighter who had already triaged the two ejected victims. Jalil handed him the fire extinguisher from his cruiser's trunk so he could focus on extracting the trapped victim, Brianna Motley, 22.
"I went over to the car and looked through the driver's side rear door to see if I could get her out that way. But I could see the ceiling was melting down," says Jalil. "It was just far too dangerous for me to try to pull her out that way. None of the doors on the passenger side worked."
Estaban had emptied the fire extinguisher and another Good Samaritan, David Riggsby, proceeded to hit the rear passenger window with it, but it wouldn't break. Jalil told the men to stand back.
"I had smashed a window with my baton before with no problem, so I thought I could do it this time," says Jalil. "I took out my baton and I cracked it as hard as I could, and it didn't do anything to the window. I hit it a few more times, and still nothing."
At this point, the heat from the flames and the discharge from the fire extinguishers were getting to Jalil, so he stepped away and instructed arriving officers to tend to the victims ejected from the car, and to use additional fire extinguishers on the continuing blaze.
Jalil then returned to the car window and hit it with his baton four or five more times with no effect. He could see the flames creeping toward Motley inside. They were only inches away.
"I remember realizing, I'm going to have to shoot this window out," he says. "I knew I had to make my shots at a downward angle from SWAT training. When we do vehicle assaults we're sure that all our fields of fire are downward so they're not hitting anything in the background. I had everybody move out from behind.
"I asked Brianna to move up. When I first saw her she had appeared unconscious, but at that point I could tell she was moving around."
The officer fired two rounds into the lower left-hand corner of the rear passenger window. The shots had the desired effect, causing the glass to "spiderweb." Jalil was then able to smash out the rest of the glass with his baton. Motley had removed her seat belt and followed Jalil's instructions to move her upper body forward so he could lift her up. He reached in and picked her up over the front seat and out the rear window.
"I tried to lift her up as high as I could so that her feet would clear the doorway. I was afraid that she might get cut from the glass," remembers Jalil. "At one point I almost had her completely over my head. I carried her out to a safe location and laid her down there."
Motley had broken her legs and suffered from smoke inhalation, but she was alive. She and the ejected passenger were transported to the hospital, where they both recovered. The driver died at the scene.
Jalil is thankful that there were people there to help him save Motley.
"People will stick around and tell you what they saw as a witness, but for someone to actually come out and battle flames to try to help someone that they don't even know is amazing," says Jalil.
Recognizing their selfless act, the Boca Raton Police Department gave trophy plaques to Lawrence Estaban, 57, of Boca Raton; Jon Benskin, 26, of Boynton Beach; and David Riggsby, 39, of Hollywood. Jalil received his department's Medal of Valor.
In addition to these people's effective response to the incident, Jalil also credits Motley's use of a seat belt with her survival.
"People will say, 'Well, she got trapped inside and her car caught on fire,' but it's very rare," says Jalil. "[In contrast,] I've heard many outrageous stories about people not wearing a seat belt in minor accidents and dying. So this is absolute proof that wearing a seat belt will save your life."