‘Just had to react’

First, he saw the car in the ditch, and then he saw the flames.

Jim Arvin had been fishing on Lamb Lake on Wednesday afternoon and decided to take his boat trailer into town for a wash. So instead of turning where he normally would, he continued on. And that’s when he spotted the car that had missed the curve in the road south of Trafalgar and gone into a ditch.

As he approached the car, the flames didn’t look too high. But when he pulled the driver out, he saw her eyebrows and hair had been singed.

Arvin grabbed the small fire extinguisher he keeps on his boat and some bottles of water and tried to put the flames out. At the same time, he had to persuade the driver, Mary Harmon, 53, Indianapolis, not to go back to get her purse out of the car. He kept the flames low for a little while, but within moments the fire grew and eventually the entire vehicle was ablaze.

Police are crediting Arvin with likely saving Harmon’s life, Sheriff Doug Cox said.

For Arvin, helping just seemed natural.

“I only did what I think anyone would have done, after seeing what was happening, you just had to react,” he said.

“You just had to do it, I couldn’t have done anything else.”

Harmon was dazed after the accident and passed out a couple of times. She was taken to Community Hospital South. Her condition was not available Thursday.

Arvin, who owns Superior Fence Co. in Indianapolis, went on with his week but felt fortunate for being there to help.

After he stopped to help at the scene of the accident, at county roads 650S and 450W, he didn’t see any other vehicles pass by for at least five minutes, which was well after the car was in flames. And he doesn’t think Harmon could have gotten herself out of the car, since it was at an angle in the ditch and she was dazed after the accident, he said.

“I don’t think she even realized the seriousness of it,” he said.

Arvin initially worried he wouldn’t be able to get the driver out of the car, but the car door opened easily, allowing him to get her out and to safety quickly, he said.

“It was real apparent when I pulled up, I saw something in the ditch, it had just happened, there was smoke and flames,” Arvin said.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of decision to make, other than getting her and getting her out.”

He then tried to put out the flames, using his small extinguisher and water bottles. If he’d had a bigger extinguisher, he thinks may have been able to get more of the flames out. But the blaze quickly grew after his fire extinguisher and water bottles ran out.

The fire department arrived within about 10 minutes of him calling 911, but the car went up in flames pretty quickly, he said.

“I just thought I could hopefully get it before it burned,” Arvin said.

Arvin is grateful he decided to wash his boat trailer that day, since most of the time he never drives through the area where the accident happened. But he doesn’t think he did anything special, or anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done, too.

“I felt fortunate I was able to help,” Arvin said.

Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.