NDC Policeman Honored for Saving Life

Notre Dame College Police Officer John McAnallen was honored at The Plain Dealer’s Heroes Reception on April 26 for rescuing a woman from a burning truck in October. McAnallen and the woman, Loretta Gregory, reunited at The Plain Dealer for the first time since the accident.

Officer John McAnallen reunites with Loretta Gregory. Foto: The Plain DealerMcAnallen, 54, was heading home from a security job in Cleveland on Saturday night, Oct. 11, when he spotted lights in the dark on U.S. Route 20 in New Russia Township. As he got closer, McAnallen realized the lights came from a crashed truck that had caught fire in a ditch off the road. As soon as he got out of his car to see if he could help, people yelled that a woman was pinned inside the burning truck.

As the flames in the engine compartment of the 1993 GMC Sierra grew by the second, McAnallen and Manolo Florian of Oberlin, Ohio attempted to free the victim, 39-year-old Loretta Gregory. They saw that the passenger door was open but couldn’t get to the woman as the dashboard had been pushed against the seat. The two men went back to the driver’s side door, but it was crushed and wouldn’t open.

"I thought for sure I was going to die," Gregory told The Plain Dealer. “My left leg was trapped and shattered, and I could feel the flames. So many people were watching . . . but [John] was the one man who came down and he said ‘You're not going to die.’”

“She kept screaming ‘get me out; get me out,’” McAnallen said. “The flames were coming up the windshield and so we decided to just pull her out through the driver’s side window.”

The two men carried Gregory to a safe area away from the truck, where Central Lorain County paramedics later treated the woman. Gregory was transported to Allen Community Hospital and then flown to MetroHealth Medical Center in critical condition.

Trooper Lance Deshuk of the Ohio State Highway Patrol credited McAnallen and Florian for saving Gregory’s life.

“Absolutely, they saved her life – I arrived just moments after they had pulled her out and the driver’s compartment was totally involved in fire. So yes, they saved a life tonight,” the blog TMCNews.net quoted Deshuk.

Gregory had been involved in a head-on collision with 53-year-old Michael Birdiak, who was travelling east on Route 20 in his 1999 Ford E150 van.

“According to witness statements, the van was attempting to pass another vehicle while traveling east and struck the 1993 Sierra. Both vehicles went off the north side of the highway. It was at this time that the Sierra caught fire,” TMCNews.net quoted Deshuk.

“When I arrived the truck was unoccupied and fully engulfed in flames,” Deshuk said. “I attempted to extinguish it with my extinguisher but there was just too much fire. The Fire Department arrived shortly after and extinguished the fire.”

"Not going to sit back"

Officer McAnallen had arrived just seconds after the crash and was one of the first cars to stop. Several people were standing around the crash site and others were standing on top of a hill watching the scene unfold. McAnallen approached the burning car and saw that Gregory had been cut above her eye and was covered in blood.

“My first thought was, ‘I am not going to sit back like one of these guys on the hill and watch her fry’,” McAnallen said.

Gregory’s driver’s side window was down and McAnallen and Florian pulled her out with relative ease. Several bystanders helped carry the woman away from the flames, which shortly after blew out the windshield and engulfed the front seats.

McAnallen then turned his attention to the van which was only about 20 feet away from the burning truck. The driver, Michael Birdiak, was trapped inside with the dashboard pushed against his knees.

“I figured if the truck blew, debris would hit the van or it was going to catch on fire,” McAnallen said.

He tried to free Birdiak, who had open fractures, but could not move him. Thankfully the van did not catch on fire. Birdiak was later cut free and flown in stable condition to MetroHealth.

McAnallen spent a few minutes talking to Gregory before the paramedics took her away. A few days later, he called the hospital to inquire about Gregory’s condition and was told she was stable. For McAnallen, it was affirmation that he did the right thing.

McAnallen saved life before

His courageous effort wasn’t the first time McAnallen saved a life. About 20 years ago, he was driving on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge when he saw a man ready to jump into the Cuyahoga River.

McAnallen stopped and talked the young man, who said he had lost his job and wife, out of jumping to his death. Shortly after, Cleveland Police arrived and secured the man. McAnallen later received a proclamation from then Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White for saving the man’s life.

McAnallen, who has worked as an emergency medical technician in the past, said he is not sure whether his police or military training, or simply his upbringing, contributed to his acts. “I think all those things together kind of set in,” McAnallen said. 

He said he doesn’t feel like a hero and is not looking for a pat on the back. “You never know how you are going to react until you find yourself in that situation,” McAnallen said. “If I ever find myself in that type of situation, I hope somebody comes to help me out instead of just standing on the side of the road.”

Officer McAnallen joined the NDC Police Department in September. He has worked in law enforcement for 10 years and spent his entire career at the Wakeman Police Department in Huron County. His main duties were running radar and performing traffic stops, but he was also dispatched to situations involving domestic violence, drunk drivers and fights. He now works two days a week at the College and enjoys the quiet campus life.

“Here, I don’t have the stress level that I had,” he said. “I’ve had enough stress in my life for a while. I can use a piece of quiet.”

By Christian Taske '07, editor and writer at Notre Dame College.


May 24
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