Off-duty deputy rescues two from burning car: 'I couldn’t let these people die'

Off-duty deputy rescues two from burning car: 'I couldn’t let these people die' »Play Video
This car crashed and caught fire Saturday night, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office. One person was able to get out alone but an off-duty deputy rescued two others. Credit: Washington County Sheriff's Office

GASTON, Ore. -- An off-duty Washington County Sheriff’s Corporal pulled two unconscious men from a burning car after it crashed about 8:10 p.m. Saturday.

A third person, Christian Bandmann, was able to make it out of the car alone but was air-lifted to OHSU. He's now in serious condition in the hospital.

The car sped through a stop sign at Southwest Spring Hill Road and Laurelwood east of Gaston, then hit two culverts and two trees before catching fire, said Washington County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Bob Ray.

Corporal Cheryl Crecelius said she heard the crash before she saw it and knew she needed to help.

"I was really concerned they weren’t going to be alive by the time I got there," Crecelius said. "I just was thinking I couldn’t let these people die."

Crecelius said she saw the driver, Mark Vanvleck, and the front passenger, Jason Eaton, slumped over and unconscious. She was able to drag out Eaton but Vanvleck's foot was stuck.

"I could see the flames by his legs, and I was yelling to him and pulling, pulling, pulling," she said. "He wouldn’t wake up."

That's when another good Samaritan agreed to help and they pulled him out together just as the jeep filled with flames. In the chaos, that good Samartian left the scene without giving his name. Corporal Crecelius, who is recovering from minor smoke inhalation and a finger injury, said she'd like to find him and say thank you.

Both Vanvleck and Eaton were treated and released from the hospital.

"I just feel relieved. I'm relieved they’re going to make it because at the time, I thought for sure the driver wasn’t going to live," Crecelius said. "This is one of the reasons I do what I do, I want to help people."

Investigators believe both speed and alcohol were factors in the crash.

The driver wasn't supposed to be driving

The Washington County Sheriff's Office cited the driver, Mark Vanvleck, for DUII, reckless driving and two counts of assault. Vanvleck also has a suspended driver's license and is not the registered owner of the jeep.

KATU News found the man the jeep is registered to said he sold it on Craigslist seven months prior to the crash and doesn't know Vanvleck.

Criminal records also show Vanvleck was convicted of reckless driving in 2006.