TAMPA — Archie Thomas peered into a smoke-filled police car Monday morning and saw the trapped officer, her leg broken and wrist wrenched. He picked her up and carried her to safety.
Moments later, the car exploded in flames.
Tampa police called Thomas a hero, crediting him with saving the life of Officer Tara Edwards.
Thomas brushed off the praise.
"I think any man would have done it," he told reporters at a news conference.
The rescue unfolded just after 6 a.m., when a woman with a history of driving troubles crashed head-on into Edwards' patrol car on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Thomas and his wife witnessed the collision as they drove from their Ybor City home to his job in east Tampa.
They had spotted a sport utility vehicle stopped at a green light. They honked. The driver continued, crossing the center line and crashing into Edwards' westbound patrol car near 27th Street.
Thomas, 40, ran to the officer's vehicle. Another man at the scene, Douglas Rand, helped him pry open the door of the wrecked police car. Thomas asked what he could do and the officer told him to get her out. He unhooked her seat belt.
Edwards and Thomas were safe in a nearby parking lot when the patrol car burst into flames.
Soon after, several police officers arrived.
Edwards, 47, was taken to Tampa General Hospital. The 18-year Tampa Police Department veteran suffered a broken wrist, nose, leg and kneecap.
Police said she was doing well at the hospital.
The SUV driver, 39-year-old Marti Ottley of Tampa, was also taken to Tampa General Hospital, where she remained Monday afternoon. Her condition was not released, but her crash injuries were reported to be minor.
She faces charges of driving under the influence with serious injury, driving with a suspended license with knowledge and careless driving, according to police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.
Ottley has been arrested 10 times in Florida and served time in state prison from February 2005 to August 2006 on burglary charges, state records show.
Her prior troubles with the law include charges of driving under the influence with property damage, marijuana possession and driving 72 mph in a 55 mph zone.
Police Chief Steve Hogue praised Thomas for saving the officer and said he would be honored with a plaque. Hogue pointed out that some drivers didn't stop when they saw the crash.
"He put his own life at risk," Hogue said of Thomas. "I think that qualifies as a hero in anybody's book."
Thomas praised Edwards for staying strong through the ordeal.
"She kept me calm," he said.
Thomas said that when he saw Edwards, he thought of her family and those who love her. The father of three said he would want someone to help his loved ones if they were in trouble.
Thomas went to work after the incident, but his boss gave him the day off.
He said he planned to treat himself to a meal at the Golden Corral.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3373.