For extracting a driver from a fiery crash, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has selected Senior Police Officer Daniel Whitney of the Athens-Clarke County (GA) Police Department as the recipient of its Officer of the Month Award for November 2016.
In the early morning of May 15, 2016, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department received a frantic 911 call about a car fire on U.S. Highway 29. The caller, who lived in a nearby home, was worried the vehicle, which had crashed into a large tree, would explode.
Senior Police Officer Daniel Whitney responded to the call and found a passenger of the vehicle partially hanging out of a small rear driver side window. The impact of the accident that caused the fire had bent the frame of the car and the doors were jammed shut.
"I could tell by the dispatcher's voice that it was bad, so I headed out there," SPO Whitney said. "When I arrived, I could see the guy hanging out the window. I retrieved my fire extinguisher and that was little help and knocked it down a little bit."
Unsuccessfully with the extinguisher to quell the flames, SPO Whitney called for a water hose from a nearby house. He then used the extinguisher to break rear windows of the car, hoping to give the passenger room to get out, but he was stuck in the small window. As SPO Whitney tried to open the rear hatch of the vehicle, an explosion came from under the hood, signaling that time was running out for the passenger.
SPO Whitney started to bend the door frame to give the passenger more room to escape, enabling the passenger to slide out of the window with the help of the officer. The passenger was carried to the side of the road by other motorists.
"Get him out, get him out of the car. That's pretty much what was going through my mind," SPO Whitney said. "I couldn't stand to stand back and watch. You couldn't live with yourself, I thought, if you do nothing."
The fire department arrived a short time later and extinguished the fire. The part of the vehicle that the man had been extracted from was found completely gutted. Officers at the scene described the heat from the fire as "unbearable" from 50 feet away. Unfortunately, the driver of the vehicle did not survive the incident.
Video of the incident from SPO Whitney's body camera can be found on the Athens-Clarke County Police Department YouTube page: https://youtu.be/pOxdEoARb0s.
"Had SPO Whitney not put himself in harm's way and shown exceptional valor in rescuing the passenger, he likely would have suffered the same fiery death as the driver," said Athens-Clarke County Police Department Lieutenant Christopher Nichols.
"Senior Police Officer Dan Whitney demonstrated the dedication our officers show every day in the line of duty," Memorial Fund President and CEO Craig W. Floyd said. "His quick actions saved the life of a man who would've died without his help. SPO Whitney is deserving of the November 2016 Officer of the Month Award."
Located in the nation's capital, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of America's law enforcement officers. The Memorial Fund's Officer of the Month Award Program began in 1996 and recognizes federal, state, and local officers who distinguish themselves through exemplary law enforcement service and devotion to duty.
Senior Police Officer Whitney, along with the other Officer of the Month Award recipients for 2016, will be honored during National Police Week at a special awards ceremony in Washington, DC, in May 2017.