Trooper with local ties hailed as hero

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cassville High School graduate Andy Ward pulls woman from burning car

By Michelle Freidrich,

Associate Editor of the

Daily American Republic

As an elderly Poplar Bluff woman recovers in a local intensive care unit, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper, who also happens to be a Cassville High School graduate, is being hailed as a hero for putting his life at risk to save the woman from her burning car.
When Trooper Andy Ward arrived on the scene of a one-vehicle crash on Highway W at about 1:35 p.m. on Jan. 7, several motorists already were there and had attempted to remove Aileene L. Meadows, 84, from her burning vehicle. About two minutes earlier, Meadows' southbound 1996 Oldsmobile Cutlass had run off the right side of the road, striking a concrete culvert before catching fire.
"There were several citizens there when Ward arrived," explained Patrol Sgt. Nelson Wallis. "The smoke and flames were so intense everybody had backed away from the car."
The citizens, according to

Wallis, had exhausted their fire extinguishers trying to knock the fire down.

"Andy ran to the car with his fire extinguisher," Wallis said. "(Meadows) was laying in the front seat with her head on the passenger side. There was heavy smoke and fire coming out from under the dash at the time."
Ward, Wallis said, ran to the driver side door in an attempt to pull Meadows out, but the door would not open.

"At this time, there are flames coming out of the dash; he tried to use his fire extinguisher to knock the flames down," Wallis said. "He got a hold of the lady, trying to pull her out. A bystander told him her leg was stuck under the brake pedal."

Wallis said Ward started toward the passenger side, but returned to the driver's side when he learned her foot was stuck.

"He crawled into the window," Wallis explained. "He said he was down in the floorboard with his legs sticking out the window. He exhausted the fire extinguisher this time trying to knock the flames down. He said the smoke was very intense. The flames were scorching the back of his shirt and burned the hair on the back of his head and neck."

Kim Brown, who was the first motorist on the scene, was standing near Ward as he worked. She described seeing flames "come up between him and the dash. (Someone) grabbed a fire extinguisher to knock down the flames (or) he would have been burned, " she said.

Although visibility was nil inside the car, Wallis said, Ward was able to free Meadows' foot from where it was trapped.

"Shortly before this, (Trooper) Corey Tucker arrived on the scene; he ran up and got a hold of Andy's gun belt and pulled him out of the car," Wallis said.

No sooner than Ward was "back out the window, (Meadows) was crawling across the seat," Brown said.

As Tucker used his fire extinguisher, Ward, with the assistance of the motorists, was able to get Meadows out through the passenger side window, Wallis said.

"They hadn't even laid her on the ground when flames came out the window," said Wallis. "The flames were so intense they picked her up again and moved her (farther) away from the car."
Having watched the video recorded from Tucker's patrol car, "it was almost like the movies. Within seconds, the car goes up," said Wallis. "Andy was very fortunate. The lady is very blessed that Andy was thereŠas fast as the car went up."
Wallis estimated it was about 45 seconds from Ward's arrival to the time when flames engulfed the car.

Butler County firefighters responded to put out the fire, which reportedly began underneath the car.

Meadows was taken by ambulance to Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center for treatment of serious injuries. She reportedly is recovering in the intensive care unit there.

"She's doing so much better; she's on a ventilator because she inhaled so much smoke," Meadows' daughter, Judy Meadows, said. "They're trying to clear her lungs."

Judy Meadows said her mother suffered a lot of contusions and bruising, particularly to her chest area from where she hit the steering wheel. Both of the elder Meadows' hands have stitches and staples after they apparently were cut by broken glass from the windshield.

Brown finds it amazing Meadows suffered no burns "even though she was pinned underneath the dash, which is where the flames were coming from."
Given everything that happened and her injuries, Judy Meadows said, she has told her mother she is lucky to be alive. She said her mother's response was "'it wasn't her time to go.'"
According to Wallis, Ward also was taken by ambulance to the Poplar Bluff hospital for treatment Monday afternoon. The burns Ward suffered, Wallis said, were not serious.

"He was treated for smoke inhalation and released," he said.

Ward, who was back at work on Tuesday, was "embarrassed when people would say something to him about it," said Wallis, who is "just really proud" of Ward, who joined the patrol in 2006.
Wallis credits Ward with saving Meadows' life.

"I knew what I thought I needed to do and that was it," Ward said. "I knew what had to be done at the time."

Although he was not treated at the hospital, Tucker also suffered some "redness on the back of his hands and (the flames) burned the hair off his hands (and) arms around his wrist," Wallis said. "Š All he did was reach in and get Andy by the gun belt. That tells you how (hot) the flames were coming out the door."
Wallis said Tucker and Lt. Jeff Vitale already have typed up a request for an Award of Valor to be given to Ward at the patrol's annual awards ceremony. Ward is the son of Bryant and Julie Ward, of Shell Knob, and the grandson of Glenda Ward, of Cassville.
Although Ward downplays his actions as "just doing his job, he went way beyond his job," Judy Meadows said. "He got injured making sure she got out of there. It's all just amazing to me."
Brown also feels what happened Monday afternoon was a miracle. It was less than a minute after Meadows was "pulled out of the car that it was totally engulfed in flames," she said. " Š There's no question in my mind, I witnessed a miracle.
"We prayed hard, and we prayed loud and did all we could. When she came out of that smoke, it was like witnessing a miracle. I still get goose bumps thinking about it."

This article is republished in the Cassville Democrat with permission from the Daily American Republic and SEMO News Service. Video footage of the daring rescue can be accessed at

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