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Deputy's quick thinking saves accident victim from burning car

NEW PORT RICHEY — Edward Whalen was trapped.

Veering off the road to avoid another driver, his car had slammed into a power pole and flipped onto its side. The silver hatchback's engine compartment burst into flames. His car filled with the black smoke of scorched metal.

Whalen, 63, doesn't usually carry his cell phone. But while driving about 2 a.m. Saturday in a city far from home, he had it with him. He frantically dialed 911, then his girlfriend back in New York, then 911 again. The fire was dancing at the windshield, and all he could do was call.

Pasco sheriff's Deputy Kelly Endricks was a mile away, searching for two theft suspects when the dispatcher called his radio. Endricks flipped on his lights and siren. He sped toward Scenic Drive.

He made it in two minutes, but was alone. The fire was spreading quickly. The pole had collapsed across the car, scattering live electrical lines. Endricks could hear the wires hum.

He ran to the back window, grabbing his steel baton. He thumped it through the glass, but Whalen was still too far away. He couldn't pull Whalen through the opening.

That's when Endricks noticed the sunroof. He ran to it, and swung the baton like a golf club. It bounced. He swung again, and the glass shattered. Black smoke burst into Endricks' face. He threw the baton to the ground.

Endricks could hear Whalen talking on the phone.

"They're here!" Whalen shouted. "They're here!"

Endricks yelled back, in commands that reminded him of the police academy.

"Let's go," he said. "Let's move it!"

Endricks grabbed Whalen, all of 6-foot-2 and more than 200 pounds, and pulled. He kept tugging at the much taller man and, finally, Whalen was out.

Endricks walked him across the street to the back of the Home Depot. When he looked the back, the inside of the car was filled with flames.

Emergency workers treated Whalen at the scene. He had breathed in a lot of smoke and suffered a few minor injuries, but was okay. Endricks was unharmed, except for a scrape on his right thumb.

A two-year patrol deputy and former Dade City police officer, Endricks had never rescued someone from a burning car. He waited at the scene as crews doused the flames and killed the power lines. Then, he drove off to file paperwork.

He later retrieved his baton, its foam handle melted. He joked with a few deputies that he might be in trouble for damaging county property. He said he might mount it on his wall.

At 5:30 a.m., his 12-hour shift ended. He went home to Port Richey, downed some Nyquil to fight off a cold and fell asleep. He awoke to text messages and Facebook posts, his friends all calling him a hero. His children, Brittany, 12, and Jonathan, 7, were excited, too. Jonathan looked up the news stories on a cell phone.

He wrote back to everyone, thanking them for their support. But he also said something else.

"We do heroic things like this every day," he said. "They just go unnoticed."

At 5 p.m. Saturday, he headed back on patrol.

This story is based on Deputy Kelly Endricks' description of the incident and information from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 869-6244 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Deputy's quick thinking saves accident victim from burning car 02/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 12, 2011 9:15pm]

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