Rescuers suing woman they saved from fiery crash

/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Two men who rescued a woman from a fiery crash in central Ohio are now suing her for injuries they say they obtained during the rescue, according to a report in The Columbus Dispatch.

David Kelley and Mark Kinkaid are suing Theresa Tanner for permanent and disabling injuries they obtained while rescuing her from a car crash in March 2009, which they say was her fault. The suit, filed March 10 in Marion County Common Pleas Court, asks for damages of at least $25,000 each.

"All I know is that I am not the same man I used to be," Kelley said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch. "What I saw that day, that woman, it haunts me. The flames were so hot when we got to her that her hair was melting to her head — melting. There isn't hardly a night that goes by that I don't wake up in a sweat, that image in my mind."

Kelley, a father of five from Marion, Ohio, said his lungs were damaged from the heavy smoke and fire in the accident. The 39-year-old truck driver said he can't even manage to carry a laundry basket up the stairs in his home.

The lawsuit claims that Tanner operated her vehicle "intentionally and/or recklessly and/or negligently," resulting in the vehicle crashing and catching on fire. It claims that Kelley and Kinkaid received "severe bodily injuries" as a result of Tanner's actions and that "all or some of these injuries are permanent in nature resulting in permanent disability."

Kinkaid's and Kelley's efforts saved Tanner's life, although she was critically injured. After the accident, she spent several weeks in an intensive-care unit, reported The Columbus Dispatch. The Ohio State Highway Patrol honored the two men for their bravery a month after the crash at a ceremony in Marion.

The men jumped over a barbed-wire fence and knocked down trees on their way down the steep highway embankment to get to Tanner's Hummer after they noticed smoke from the side of the highway.

A daring rescue
When they arrived at the car, Kinkaid broke a window with a tire iron, but the men couldn't reach her through the small Hummer windows, reported The Columbus Dispatch. Despite the heavy smoke and intense flames, the men continued to reach into the car and search for other passengers. Kelley said the heat was so intense that it burnt the hair off his body and melted his cell phone.

Kelley finally was able to pull Tanner, the lone passenger, out of the car and Kinkaid carried her up the hill away from the flames, because Kelley was too overcome from the smoke, he said.

Apparently, good samaritans who sue those they rescue isn't uncommon, according to Stan Darling, a professor at Capital University Law School.

"The precedent is clear: danger invites rescue...and if you've acted recklessly or negligently and someone gets hurt rescuing you, you could be in trouble," Darling said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch.

"That's the first time in my experience that I've heard of people going back and suing the person they rescued," patrol Lt. Chuck Jones said Monday.

He said he still believes the men needed to be honored for their bravery.

"I'm almost 100 percent certain that she would have perished in the fire if they had not pulled her from the vehicle," said Jones, who's now a criminal patrol commander in the Columbus area.

Kelley's fellow rescuer, Kinkaid, could not be reached for comment by the Dispatch. Kinkaid, 43, of Prospect, Ohio, was indicted on several felonies after the suit was filed that are unrelated to the crash. Kinkaid posted a $50,000 bond and was released from jail in June, according to the Dispatch.

Tanner, 28, of Marysville, Ohio, declined via her husband to comment on the story to The Columbus Dispatch. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol report of the crash, Tanner told authorities she had an argument with someone on the day of the crash and she wanted to end her life. She said she didn't remember anything after crashing into a bridge guardrail.