Teacher rescues teen from burning truck
You have probably wondered how you would react if faced with a life-and-death emergency.
Would you freeze, or would you jump in and do what it takes to save a life?
For Wayne Moore, this question has been answered. He jumped in.
Moore, a Carson City resident and 15-year auto mechanics teacher at Douglas High School, was driving home Wednesday afternoon when he saw the truck in front of him on Clearview Drive run a stop sign and hit another pickup traveling north on Edmonds. Both trucks were in flames before they stopped sliding, he said.
“I was behind the older truck on Clearview and when I started to brake for the stop sign, I noticed that their brake lights weren’t going on,” he said. “Then, it happened so fast. Just as I realized they weren’t stopping, I saw the impact. I didn’t even see the other truck coming, and I was only 100-150 feet away.”
As soon as the mangled, flaming trucks stopped moving, Moore said he ran towards them.
The 1978 Chevy truck that ran the stop sign had two passengers, Thomas and Jeannette Douglas, Dayton residents who had been married for 31 years.
The “outside mounted” gas tank on their vehicle ruptured on impact and ignited.
The other truck, a 1992 Chevy was driven by Robert Bugajski, a 17-year-old Carson High School student. Although his truck didn’t have an outside-mounted gas tank, the flames from the Douglases’ truck, rose and engulfed the driver’s side of Robert’s vehicle.
“The heat even then was pretty intense,” Moore said. “Later, a friend of mine, who’s a fireman, told me that the minimum temperature for a gasoline fire like that is 560 degrees.”
Moore saw that he could gain access to the passenger side of the teen’s truck because the wind was blowing the other way.
“So many things were in my favor,” he said. “If the wind had been blowing the other way, I couldn’t have even attempted to get in the truck.”
As it was, he made three passes at getting the boy out.
“When I saw the crash, I could see that he was wearing a red shirt,” he recounted. “By the time I entered the truck the first time, the shirt was already burned off. I could see that he was alive, but he was turned around with his right leg wedged between the seat and the driver’s door and his head was sticking out the window.”
Backing out of the truck, Moore then flagged down a car and told them to get help.
“The second time I entered the truck, I realized the engine was still running,” said Moore. “I knew it was a newer truck with fuel injection, and as long as the engine was running, the fuel would be pumping. It was already hot enough in there, so I shut the key off and tried to figure how to get him out.
“I was afraid that if I pulled on him, his skin would come off, so I yelled at him to come this way. It was really getting warm and I was starting to ask myself what I was doing. The truck could go and I have a family, I thought.”
For a split second he felt defeat and then he thought of his own children, especially his 17-year-old son Nathan, who is a senior at CHS and a licensed driver.
“I couldn’t walk away knowing that this boy was alive,” he said. “I don’t think I could have lived with myself.”
As he entered the burning truck for the third time, Moore saw that Robert’s head had dropped down, clearing the door, and he muscled the leg out, grabbed the boy under his arms and pulled him out of the cab.
Moore estimated the time he spent rescuing the teen was probably no more than one minute.
In contacting Robert’s burned skin, the hot surface actually caused first and second degree burns on Moore’s forearm.
After dragging the teen to the side of the road, Moore said it seemed like an eternity before a motorcycle police officer – the first to arrive – showed up.
“It was only about four minutes,” he said, “but when you are watching people burn, it’s an eternity.”
Robert cried for water as they waited, but Moore could only verbally comfort the boy.
“I kept telling him that help is on its way,” he said. “It was probably another two to three minutes before the ambulance arrived.”
The Douglases did not survive the crash. Moore said he wished he could have gotten them out.
“My fireman friend told me that they probably died after two inhalations,” Moore said. “It made me feel a little bit better, thinking they didn’t suffer for long, but still it was something I’ll never forget.”
Bugajski, who was not wearing a seat belt, was flown to the burn unit of a Las Vegas hospital.
“I can’t help but think that if he’d been wearing his seat belt, he would have had a burned left arm and not much more.”
The other tragic factor in Wednesday’s crash, Moore said, was the presence of the outside-mount gas tank on the 1978 Chevy and the location and timing of the impact.
“If Robert had just seen that the other truck might not be stopping, and braked for even one second, he wouldn’t have hit them at what turned out to be the worst possible spot,” he said.
Saying he was simply at the right place at the right time, Moore felt he had no choice in what he did.
“It was just automatic,” he said. “It was a no-brainer for me. I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before and I hope I never do again. I’m just glad Robert is OK.”
As of late Friday afternoon, Robert Bugajski was still listed in critical condition at the University Medical Center burn unit in Las Vegas.
Earlier this month, Moore was selected by his peers to be the DHS Teacher of the Year.
He is hoping to make his experience a learning tool for his students – telling them about defensive driving, wearing their seatbelts and not to buy Chevy or GMC trucks manufactured from 1972 to 1978, among other things.
Friday morning, Moore went to buy a card for Robert Bugajski to wish him a speedy recovery.