Lawrenceburg man recounts pulling boys from burning SUV

A Lawrenceburg man was able to pull two young boys from a burning SUV on New Year’s Eve after it was struck head-on by another car.

Jeremy Zeller said he and his son were on their way to a family gathering when he came upon the wreck. He said he initially attempted to gain access to the car, which was already catching fire, but couldn’t open the doors.

“Right about that time, I heard screaming from the SUV and ran over there,” he said. “I couldn’t get the doors open, but heard kids screaming. I guess that amped up my adrenalin and I just ended up pulling the rear door open on the passenger side and jumped in there.”

Zeller said he was first able to get a hold of the older of the two boys and handed him off to others who were outside of the SUV.

“I jumped back in there and pulled the other boy out and passed him on,” he said. “When I jumped back in there, I could see the fire starting to come through to the [SUV] and their dad, I assumed, was pinned between the driver seat and steering column. It looked pretty bad. His legs were crushed.”

Zeller said the woman seated in the front was crushed between the seat and dashboard.

“She was slumped over and I could tell wasn’t breathing right, so I grabbed her chin to lift her head to help her breathe.”

Zeller said it was then that firefighters broke a window to gain access, and that he helped shield the woman from breaking glass before assisting with getting the man out.

“The flames were getting bad,” he said. “I jumped out to gauge the situation and by that time it was so hot I couldn’t stand there.

“The woman was still in there, so I jumped back in and grabbed the recline button on the seat. It came down a little, but it’s electric and wasn’t working right.

“I kept yanking it down to try to get her over the seat. I grabbed her under her arms to get her hips dislodged.”

Zeller said while he was doing that, firefighters used a pneumatic cutting tool and were able to remove the door.

“I jumped out, grabbed her legs and we carried her over the shoulder,” he said. “They started doing CPR on her.”

The woman, who as of Tuesday morning had not been identified, was later pronounced dead at an area hospital.

Zeller said his efforts continued when he heard yelling near where one of the boys was seated alongside the road.

“The oldest boy was deaf and needed an interpreter,” he said. “I know enough sign language to carry on a conversation, and I found out his name and reassured him that his mom and dad were out of the vehicle.”

Zeller downplayed his role in helping rescue the family.

“I did what needed to be done,” he said. “If something wasn’t done, people would have died. I wasn’t OK with that.”

A professional musician, Zeller is creative arts director at Vineyard Church, which has campuses in Frankfort and Lexington.

He said the experience has left even more appreciative of first responders and the work they do.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about people who do that every day,” he said. “I’m very thankful for the people who risk their lives every day, doing the exact same thing I did.

“I just happened to be the person there at the time. I would hope anyone who saw the same thing would have the same reaction.”