Published: November 18, 2015
Joel Luce (sitting) and Greg Stuenkel (standing)
“I kept telling him I’m not going to leave you … if we go, we go together,” Joel Luce assured a young man trapped in a burning vehicle as he and co-worker Greg Stuenkel worked to pull an accident victim from the car.
Texas A&M University officials are now sharing what they have learned about the two Transportation Services workers who helped with the rescue in the early morning hours last Saturday.
Luce, night-shift enforcement supervisor, was on his way to work when he saw the car and flagged down Stuenkel, facilities maintenance leader, to help.
“We are extremely proud of Joel and Greg and the courage they both displayed during this extremely dangerous situation. Our teammates made the decision to act and as a result, their heroic efforts saved this man’s life,” said Executive Director Peter Lange, Transportation Services.
Luce was headed out to the West Campus Garage to begin his duties for the last Aggie home football game of the season. As he approached George Bush Drive he noticed two people – a man and woman – standing by a vehicle that appeared to have crashed into a tree. He pulled over to check on the couple, believing they were the driver and passenger of the car. To his surprise, there was someone trapped in the vehicle that was now in flames.
“As I approached the vehicle I saw flames underneath the front of the engine. I knew I had to do something,” he said. “I could see the driver. He was bleeding and his words were slurred but I heard him say, ‘Please get me out of here.’”
The force of the impact jammed the vehicle doors. Using his hand-held radio, Luce attempted to break the glass in an effort to gain access to the driver. At that moment he noticed his coworker Greg Stuenkel driving by. Seeing Luce, Stuenkel pulled his vehicle over and jumped in to assist.
“I was on my way to pick up signs and I saw Joel on the side of the road waving me down. I saw the flames and when I pulled over I grabbed the fire extinguisher and started putting out the fire,” he said.
Luce and Stuenkel worked urgently to gain access to the injured driver who was trapped in his vehicle. Stuenkel used a sledge hammer to break the windows. At this time College Station Police Officer Patricia Marty arrived on-scene and joined rescue efforts.
To add to this struggle the car caught fire once again. As the flames grew, and the smoke gained in intensity, Luce worked to free the young man from the mangled wreckage. Battling extreme smoke and the rising flames he reassured the driver he was not giving up until he was free.
With coordinated efforts by Luce, Stuenkel, local law enforcement and fire department personnel, the young driver was successfully pulled from the burning vehicle and transported to Houston for medical care.
Although a harrowing experience, Luce and Stuenkel refuse to be called heroes. They leave that title, they said, to the men and women that work day-in and day-out as public servants. But their law enforcement brethren see things differently.
“These men arrived at the scene and made a decision to help out a fellow citizen, and that is amazing,” said College Station Police Officer Caden Walker.
Looking back at the situation, both Luce and Stuenkel said their biggest fear was having the vehicle explode with the young man still trapped inside. This is something that still weighs heavy on their minds. But when asked if they would do it again, both said they would — “In a heartbeat.”