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From the Herald-Coaster

By B. J. POLLOCK

Friends are organizing a blood drive and have established a fund for donations to help with mounting medical costs of a Pecan Grove man who was pulled from his burning truck just seconds before it was engulfed in flames July 28.

Benjamin Scott Jones, 22, remains in critical condition in Brooke Army Medical Center Hospital in San Antonio after being trapped in the wreckage when his truck crashed into a tree on a curve on State Highway 36 South about six and a half miles south of Caldwell.

The accident occurred at about 8:20 a.m. when Jones reportedly fell asleep at the wheel of his 1995 Dodge truck. He had been traveling southbound on State Highway 36 South when his vehicle drifted right onto the west side of the road, went through a wide ditch and struck a tree head-on. Both Jones and passenger Sabrina Leigh Romasz, 19, of Somerset, N.J., were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, according to Texas Department of Public Safety reports.

Jones, the son of Scott and Doris Jones of Richmond and brother of Amy Jones-Kersey and her husband Sam Kersey of Houston, was transported by air ambulance to Brackenridge Hospital in Austin and later transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Romasz was transported by air ambulance to St. Joseph Regional Health Center in Bryan, where she was later released.

Family members reported Jones and Romasz were on their way back to Houston from Fort Hood when the accident occurred and said Romasz returned to her home in New Jersey after being released from the hospital.

Richmond residents Danny and Sharon Slavinski, who were on their way from Somerville to Canton, came upon the wreck just after it happened. Danny Slavinski said he saw smoke coming from the ditch and spotted the truck on fire as he passed it. "We turned right around and went back to help," he said.

By the time Slavinski turned his truck around, other good Samaritans had also stopped to render aid, driving through the wide ditch to Jones' truck in their sport utility vehicle.

While one of the men from that vehicle dialed 911 from his cell phone, the Slavinskis rushed to the aid of Romasz, whom they could hear calling out for help. By the time the Slavinskis reached Romasz, she had opened the sliding window in the back of the truck cab and crawled through it to the bed of the truck.

"She couldn't walk too good, so we helped her out," Slavinski said. "The truck was on fire, so we talked to her to find out if anyone else was in the truck. We did get out of her that the driver was still in the cab." Slavinski said he and his wife tended to Romasz while the other men who stopped to help ran to Jones' aid, trying to free him from the burning vehicle.

"The guys ran to the truck and tried to get the door open, but they couldn't," Slavinski recalled. "Another guy brought a steel bar. They tried to pry it open with that, but they couldn't. So they tried to break open the window with it, and they had a hard time doing it." Slavinski said once the window was shattered, the rescuers continued to have trouble getting Jones out of the truck, all the while battling the flames which were flaring up in the cab. "(Jones) was stuck. He must have had his seat belt on because I heard someone holler for a knife (to cut the seat belt)," Slavinski said. "The whole time they were trying to pull him out, the fire was coming up between his legs. When they pulled him out, his legs were on fire. One guy pulled his shirt off and started beating the flames."

Meanwhile, a passing paramedic stopped to help and began tending to Romasz, who Slavinski said went into shock. "I thought she was dying," he said, still shaken from the incident. Slavinski said he called Romasz a few days after the accident to see how she was doing and she reported having surgery for a broken bone in her hand. "Other than that, she was fine," Slavinski said. He has checked on Jones through employees at the Rosenberg Walgreen store, where Jones' father works, and said he remains amazed that Jones was able to survive the ordeal and is grateful for those who stopped to help.

"They did a really courageous thing," Slavinski said of the men who pulled Jones from his burning vehicle. "Within a couple of seconds of getting (Jones) out, the whole cab was engulfed in flames. He was really lucky they stopped and were able to get him out because I'm not that big of a guy - I don't know if I'd have been able to get him out. It was terrible. I never want to see anything like it again."

The Burleson County Citizen-Tribune reported the men who risked their own lives to save Jones from a certain fiery death were U.S. Army Maj. Bill Decker, who is stationed at the Texas Army National Guard in Brenham, Glenn Elshick of Wallis, Jason Solis of Belton and Jimmy Menges of Caldwell.

Jones continues the fight for his life in the burn/trauma intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, suffering burns to over 40 percent of his body. In addition, he suffered a rare bacterial infection of the lungs which does not respond well to antibiotics. He was taken into surgery Monday morning to amputate his left foot.

A blood drive for Jones will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at Polly Ryon Memorial Hospital in Richmond, in conjunction with the hospital's regular monthly blood drive. Those wishing to make monetary donations may do so by contacting any Wells Fargo Bank and identifying account number 0529784068. To get details about future fund-raising efforts or for more information on Jones' condition, access the website established in his name at www.benjaminjones.org.