In an action that a local fire chief called “heroic,” Ralph Gilles, Fiat Chrysler’s Global Head of Design, used his Jeep Wrangler’s bumper to push a burning Ford Edge away from a crashed Ford Fiesta and its trapped occupants, having arrived first at the scene of what was to become a fatal car crash in suburban Detroit, local newspaper Oxford Leader reports.
After midnight last Sunday, a man in a Ford Edge traveling down a rural road in Addison Township, Michigan crossed into the oncoming lane, and struck a 2013 Ford Fiesta, which had two occupants inside.
Fiat Chrysler’s head of design, Ralph Gilles, who was returning with his wife from an event, says he was the first person to the scene, arriving just after the initial crash as the Edge driver was exiting his vehicle. While moving his Jeep Wrangler to park somewhere safe, Gilles witnessed a second collision: a 1997 Buick LeSabre also crashed into the Fiesta, pushing the compact car close to the Ford Edge, which caught fire.
Gilles pushed the burning Edge across the road, as the local paper Oxford Leader describes:
Seeing the “tall flames coming from the Edge’s engine compartment” and concerned the Fiesta, which was now touching the burning vehicle, would also catch fire while the couple was trapped inside, the quick-thinking Gilles used his Wrangler to “push the Edge to the opposite shoulder, away from the other two vehicles.”
Gilles explained that he was lucky he was in something with a big bumper and four-wheel drive that night:
“I still have no idea where that (thought) came from,” Gilles told this reporter. “The only thing I can remember thinking (is) I’ve got a Jeep, it’s got a bumper on it, I think I can do this. All I could think about were the two people still inside the other car.”
“I give the Jeep a lot of credit because had I been in my (Dodge) Challenger, I wouldn’t have had the traction to do it,” Gilles noted. “Luckily, we had the Jeep that night. I put it in four-wheel drive and it worked perfectly.”
The fire department was able to get the Fiesta’s two occupants out of the car, though one of the two—a 57 year-old woman from Goodrich—died after being taken to two hospitals. Her husband is in stable condition, the Buick driver sustained minor injuries, and the Edge driver also suffered minor injuries, the newspaper reports. The Edge driver has been put in jail, and the police deputy claims that he admitted to drinking.
Jerry Morawski, the Addison Fire Chief, praised Gilles’ actions, saying:
“That guy did a pretty heroic thing... I think the guy did a great job... (If he hadn’t taken action,) it could have been worse.”
Jalopnik has reached out to Gilles and will update if we hear from him.
A deputy at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office speaking with Jalopnik did not know the names of everyone involved but did confirm that “an executive from Chrysler” was at the crash, and that his efforts were life-saving. “The two vehicles were connected and the elderly couple were trapped. They would have burned to death right at the scene.”
The deputy continued, “We’re quite proud of him.”
Correction: This story has been corrected to align with the fact that Gilles used his Jeep to push the Edge, not the Fiesta. I regret the error.
Ralph Gilles responded to our inquiry via email, saying:“I wish the woman involved who was clearly loved in the community based on mutual friends accounts.. had survived.” He continued in another email, saying “I would also say... we should all think twice about driving impaired in any way.”
Gilles sent a short video clip of the scene. Here’s a screenshot: