Manchester resident Ann Mitchell tells Patch that she was stopped at a light last Tuesday night when her Chevrolet Blazer was struck from behind by a Chevrolet Tahoe at Dougherty Ferry and Carman roads.
As previously reported by Patch, the impact of the crash caused both vehicles to burst into flames, trapped Mitchell in her burning SUV and left the Tahoe driver unconscious in his SUV and with a head wound. Much of what happened following the crash was caught on the in this article, including two men risking their lives to pull the Tahoe driver from his vehicle as it was engulfed in flames and Mitchell being cared for after she escaped nearly burning alive.
"There was a lot of heroism that night," Mitchell tells Patch.
She admits it was a terrifying and emotional night, but refuses to feel like a victim. Instead, she is only looking forward and feeling so grateful to those that helped care for her during last Tuesday's ordeal.
"It's very raw, because you feel your being victimized again. Even though you want to tell people the good story," Mitchell tells Patch as she recollects how the events unfolded.
She was leaving an artist guild meeting and was only a mile and half from home when she said her SUV was struck and ignited into flames.
"I took my seat belt off and tried to get the hell out of there. I tried the driver side door, but it wouldn't open and I went to the passenger side. It wouldn't open either. I guess rear impact jams the doors. There was a lot of smoke. I went back to the drivers side," Mitchell explains of trying to escape the SUV that was engulfed in flames. "I consciously knew it, but I didn't take a second to look at it. I just remember the smoke and an eerily orange glow."
She said the second time she hit the drivers door, it finally gave, "I just knew if I didn't get it open, well. I hit it with all my force I guess it just propelled me onto the ground."
Outside her car stood . He'd been driving home with his daughter and reportedly narrowly missed being struck by the Tahoe too. He witnessed the crash and ran to Mitchell's blazer to try and help, but the fire and heat prevented him from even opening a door.
"I fell on the pavement and I had gravel in my hand... he helped pick me up and pull me away from the flames," Mitchell remembers.
She also remembers the hug Caruso gave her once they were on the curb. She said it's something she'll never forget.
"Held me in a bear hug which was my best hug ever. He was awesome, very calming." Mitchell tells Patch. "He was amazing, he was amazing."
However, Mitchell said at this point her tires were exploding and she needed to move further away from the car. Meanwhile, Caruso told her he needed to check on the other driver still inside the burning Tahoe.
Mitchell said she isn't aware of much that took place with the Tahoe rescue, but she does remember Officer Gonzalez putting her in his patrol car and a woman who said she was a nurse tending to her before EMS crews arrived. Much of this is heard on the dash cam video recording included in this article, including when Mitchell recalls she nearly "burned alive."
"She (the nurse) stayed with me the whole time and and called my husband and talked to him. She was really a rock," Mitchell said. "She didn't have to do that."
Mitchell said it was such a hectic scene and everyone was so busy and the nurse was able to stay by her side which she found very comforting.
"My other hero," Mitchell said. "She was very deserving of recognition too."
Mitchell has spent the last week simply recovering emotionally and physically from that night. Although, she escaped without burns, her face suffered cuts and her was singed. She knows a traumatic incident takes time from which to recover on a number of levels.
"Oh definitely, there was a moment I thought I was not going to get out of there, but I did. I hit the steering wheel. I'm really glad I didn't black out. If I had blacked out, I wouldn't have gotten out," Mitchell said thinking back.
However, now Mitchell tells Patch she is moving forward and doesn't focus on what happened that night.
"It was worse right after because I couldn't close my eyes without going back, but now, life goes on and you make new memories," Mitchell said.
And although she still has a few challenges ahead, including becoming comfortable in cars again, Mitchell tells Patch she's determined to make the best of what's to come.
"I'm not going to avoid cars, that's the next hurdle," Mitchell explained and said she's just grateful everyone survived that night. "I hate to say lucky because I wish it never happened, but the outcome was lucky."
So along with those new memories, Mitchell may have made some new friends. She plans to thank Caruso and the nurse who was there last Tuesday.
"She and Joe are my heroes," Mitchell said. "I'm here so I'm very, very grateful."
With Caruso in particular, she feels a special bond was formed from the unfortunate chain of events that night.
"I feel like a bond with him too, because he knows...exactly what happened."