CMPD officers recount rescue of juvenile suspect from burning car
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - On any given day, police officers encounter a variety of situations. For the most part, the job of officers is to arrest law breakers.
Saturday afternoon, before two Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers could make an arrest, they had to rescue a suspect.
"My instinct was to get this person to safety. That was it, everything else can he handled at a later time but we need to make sure that person was safe," said Officer P. Rangolan.
Officers say it started with a crime spree involving five juveniles who had allegedly broken into several cars in the University City area, stole one of the cars, and police say, went on to rob a Rite Aid on West W. T Harris Boulevard.
One of CMPD's license plate readers spotted the tag of the car that was wanted for the robbery.
Officers got word that the car was near the intersection of The Plaza at Matheson.
"I was at The Plaza and Eastway on a separate call for service. They advised that the vehicle was headed towards Sugar Creek. As I reached Sugar Creek they said the vehicle had just turned on to Sugar Creek and that's when I saw the vehicle. It made a U-turn and came back towards me. When I made my U-turn that's when the accident happened," said Officer Travis Archer.
Officer Archer, a 15-year veteran of the department, said the suspects' car accelerated and the driver hit the other vehicle that was coming through the intersection that had a green light.
Police say the impact pushed that vehicle off the roadway down an embankment.
"I could see the lady, she was taking the small children out of the vehicle. When I asked if they were okay she said yes, and I turned my attention back to the other vehicle and I knew that guy was still in the driver's seat, but he wouldn't get out. He told me he was stuck," Officer Archer said.
Officers say four juveniles jumped out the vehicle and ran away leaving behind the driver inside the car.
Officer Archer said he started to help the suspect get out of the car. That's when another officer told him there was a fire in the car's engine block.
"I recognize right away that he's a kid. He's in a burning vehicle. We had to get him out of there. I don't think he realized the car was on fire. He just kept telling me he couldn't get out," Archer said.
Right about then Officer Rangolan arrived at the scene.
"I saw the smoke billowing from the front of the car. I ran around to the other side of the vehicle, the rear passenger side – entered the vehicle. I had to get in there just to see if I could aid in getting this kid out. I looked out the windshield of the car at one point and you could just see the flames billowing up through the hood of the car so what seemed like an eternity may have only lasted two-to-three seconds. It was pretty intense," Officer Rangolan said.
Getting the teen out wouldn't be easy.
"Once I was in there I was able to grab him by the waist band and I was telling him, trying to see if he can get out on his own, walk out of the car, walk out of the car, but there was no response. He was conscious, looked awake but he looked kind of dazed, confused as to what was going on," Rangolan said.
The two officers finally got the juvenile out of the burning car.
"I was able to grab him by the waist band and just pull him forward and get him out from that front seat area and get him out of the car," Officer Rangolan recounted.
Did the officers feel they were ever in danger?
"Maybe once I got him out of the car I saw the flames coming out of the hood. I've experienced calls like that before where the cars will explode so we knew to get him away from that vehicle as soon as possible," Officer Archer said.
Officer Rangolan added, "there was a sense of danger but that didn't stop me or hinder me from doing what I needed to do."
Now, a couple of days later, Officers Archer and Rangolan are still digesting Saturday on the job.
"Everything happened so fast. The response by the other officers was amazing. We caught six suspects within a matter of minutes. That doesn't happen very often," Officer Archer said.
"It's definitely something I won't ever forget. As a father seeing a young man of that age trapped in a vehicle, it's illuminating as to things that are going on. We have to protect our youth. We have to protect our youth," Officer Rangolan said.
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