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Cab driver who rescued car crash victims is just glad he was there to help
For someone being hailed as a hero for saving four lives over the weekend, Mike Stapleton hasn’t slept much in the last two nights.
“I keep hearing the screams in my head,” the 63-year-old told The Telegram Tuesday.
“I expected I’ll be hearing them for a while. It’s keeping me awake at night.”
The screams were from a group of young people who were trapped inside a smoking vehicle that had crashed on Blackhead Road in St. John’s.
Around 2:15 a.m. Sunday, Stapleton — a driver for Jiffy Cabs — had just dropped passengers off in Shea Heights and was heading back downtown when he came across a red Dodge Caliber. It had smashed into a concrete post under the overpass at a sharp turn.
“I didn’t think anybody was in the car,” said Stapleton, a 34-year veteran taxi driver. “I figured someone had been drinking and left it after crashing.”
But when he got out to take a closer look, he saw four people inside. The male driver and male passenger in the back seat were unconscious, he said, while two females — one in the front seat and one in the back — were screaming for help.
“It was bad,” Stapleton said. “The girl in the front seat, the seat was curled up, jamming her in. She couldn’t get out. The air bag had gone off. … The girl in the back looked like her leg was snapped, like it was caught under the seat.”
Stapleton immediately ran back to his cab to call dispatch for help.
“I told them to call everybody,” he said, referring to police and an ambulance.
He then rushed back to the car and decided he was going to try to get them all out.
He reached in to remove the male in the back seat first. As he dragged him to an area away from the car, the man was covered in blood and was in and out of consciousness, Stapleton said.
“He was in shock,” Stapleton said.
He then went to the other side of the car to open the other back door to get the female in the back out, and helped her to safety.
“Oh my God,” Stapleton said, “the screams that were coming out of them was unreal.”
Next was the driver, who was bloodied and unresponsive. Stapleton reached him and dragged him to the same area as the others.
He then directed his attention to the female trapped in the front seat.
Stapleton tried to be quick, as he saw smoke billowing from the hood of the car.
“It was just terror,” Stapleton said.
Despite several attempts to open the door, he couldn’t.
“It just wouldn’t open. I tried and tried, but it was jammed,” said Stapleton, who is 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds.
But he refused to give up. After about five minutes, Stapleton used all his might to give one last pull.
“I said, ‘God, almighty, if you’re up there, give me strength,’” he said.
Finally, the door opened.
“She managed to get out,” said Stapleton, adding that by then other people had shown up, including a few other Jiffy cabs. “She was pretty good — a minor leg injury and in a daze, but she was able to walk.”
As Stapleton was speaking to the girl and a few others, he turned and saw flames coming from the vehicle, he said.
“Then, it was just like, boom, it exploded,” said Stapleton, adding that it happened just as the first police car arrived on the scene.
“My heart went up in my throat. It was crazy. That’s when it hit me that if I didn’t make the decision to get them out, they may not have survived.”
After speaking with police, Stapleton, covered in blood, went home, where he spent much of the night talking about the incident with his wife, Ward 1 city councilor Deanne Stapleton.
“It really shook me up and I’m still a bit rattled,” he said, his voice quivering. “I think it’s really starting to hit me now.”
All four crash victims were taken to hospital, and Stapleton said he hopes they will all be OK.
“To think they could have died …,” he said, pausing. “It’s hard to put into words. It’s heart-wrenching.”
After the incident, some of the crash victims’ family members contacted him to thank him, he said.
“The father of one of the girls came over to me (at the crash scene) and shook my hand and said, ‘You saved my little girl’s life,’” he said. “That was something else.”
Stapleton said Tuesday the accolades had been pouring in all day, but he doesn’t think he deserves to be called a hero.
“I’m no hero. I’m just lucky I was there at the right time,” he said.
“I’ve got five children and 10 grandchildren. I’d like to think that if one of them was in trouble, someone would help them, too.”
Jiffy Cabs owner Chris Hollett said he and his co-workers were all proud of what Stapleton did.
“Mike’s pretty bashful and humble, so he’s not one for wanting attention,” said Hollett, adding that the company tries to hire drivers of good character and encourages them to obtain first-aid training.
“But he deserves the recognition for what he did.”