Heroic firefighter saves woman from fiery, deadly crash.

April 22, 2020


Chris Abbatoy

Heroic firefighter saves woman from fiery, deadly crash.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

COLFAX TOWNSHIP — Walkerville firefighter Chris Abbatoy put his life on the line to save a seriously-injured young woman from a fiery, deadly car accident Monday, April 20.

Abbatoy acted as a human shield to protect 27-year-old Vicki Branch of Walkerville while she was trapped inside her vehicle.

Abbatoy “heroically laid on the hood of Branch’s vehicle to shield her from the heat and flames,” said Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast, who sent a recommendation to the Michigan Sheriff’s Association for the firefighter to receive a lifesaving award. “He was incredibly brave,” said Mast. “He shielded her from the heat and possibly from death.”

Branch remains hospitalized for her serious injuries, but is listed in stable condition.

Abbatoy’s burned firefighter coat.

Two young men died in the head-on crash on North 176th Avenue near Walkerville. Pronounced dead at scene were driver Josue Morales, 20, of Hart and passenger Enrique Guajardo, 23, of Donna, Texas.

“I was just doing my job,” said Abbatoy, who has been firefighter for 12 years. “You do what you have to do,” he said modestly. He was the first emergency worker to arrive at the scene.

The 35-year-old volunteer firefighter, who is a father and works in the construction field, said he was home — which was about six miles from the crash scene — when the emergency call came in.

When he arrived, Abbatoy saw that one of the cars was “fully involved,” and he rushed in to help. He found Branch injured and trapped inside her vehicle with the heat of the other car’s flames posing life-threatening danger. The windshield of her minivan was smashed out, leaving her directly exposed.

“The intensity of the heat and the way she was trapped left her completely vulnerable,” he recalled.

Abbatoy remembers holding the terrified woman’s hand and assuring her he wasn’t going to leave. He remained at her side until she was freed from the wreckage by his fellow firefighters. Abbatoy estimates he was there for more than 10 minutes.

The horrific crash occurred on a curved section of North 176th Avenue between Jackson and Rossel Lake roads.

“Upon arrival on scene, (deputies) found two vehicles that were involved in a high-speed head-on collision,” states a press release from the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office. “The evidence showed that a 2016 Honda Accord driven by Mr. Josue Morales was traveling northbound at a high rate of speed and was passing another vehicle in a no passing zone. The Morales vehicle lost control, went off the road on the east side, over corrected, and drove into the southbound lane into the path of a 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan driven by Ms. Vicki Branch.

“When the vehicles struck, the Morales vehicle caught on fire and became engulfed in flames. Walkerville Fire and Rescue were on scene very soon after the crash and were very heroic in their efforts to save Ms. Branch. One particular firefighter (Abbatoy) laid his body over the hood of Ms. Branch’s vehicle to shield her from the heat and flames from the Morales vehicle. His turnout gear was destroyed from the heat he absorbed.”

The Veridian brand suit “will not melt, drip or char at temperatures up to 700 degrees Farenheit,” states the Veridian website. The suits are made of DuPont Kevlar and Nomex brand fibers.

After Branch was pulled from the wreckage, Life EMS transported her to the Walkerville School parking lot where an Aeromed helicopter picked her up and transported her to Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids where she is being treated.

“He did what he had to do,” said Walkerville Assistant Fire Chief Al Purdy. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I’m proud of all of the men and women who were there.”

“I was doing what I was trained to do,” Abbatoy said. “That person is having probably the worst day of their life, and you have to try to keep a smile on your face. You do what you have to do no matter what and hope that you make it home.”

This story is copyrighted © 2020, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.


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