CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – A pop as loud as a shotgun brought drivers to attention — the balloon tire of a nearby dump truck full of stone suddenly burst, the truck was listing off into a guardrail.
The collision was inevitable; the truck collided with the guardrail on the I-90 westbound and overturned. Flames began licking at the side of the truck, growing by the second. Larry Coulter, the driver of the truck for a local company, said the guard rail punctured the fuel tank.
Moments later, the truck was engulfed in flames. Coulter said as the heat rose in the cab of the truck, he realized there was no method of escape. Coulter’s truck was on its side; he was standing on the passenger side door which was pinned to the ground. When he reached up to grab the driver side door, he saw flames greedily overtaking the top of the truck.
“The tires were bursting all around me,” Coulter said. “I just kept thinking it was the end.”
Coulter said he knew his only option was to kick out the windshield of the truck, but smoke was infiltrating the cabin, and breathing it in made him weak. He said his attempts to kick out the windshield yielded no fruit.
Flames overtook the bottom of the truck. Coulter said he could see them under what would normally be the floor of the truck. That’s when Coulter said he saw a car pull in front of him.
The car can be seen in video captured of the truck by a passerby, and the driver, Coulter said, had only one explanation.
“He was my guardian angel that day,” Coulter said. “Of that I have no doubt.”
Coulter said the driver of the car approached him with a metal bar, but was beaten back by the heat of the flames. He said he could only watch as Ed Brunner, the man who came to his rescue, picked up hefty stones and hurled them with force at the window.
Brunner’s several attempts with the heavy concrete proved successful — he cracked the window enough so that Coulter could kick his way out.
“That guy should have been a professional football player or something,” Coulter said. “That truck was engulfed in flames, it was just unbelievable.”
When Coulter kicked out the windshield, he said Brunner helped him out, but that was the last he saw of the man.
“I could hardly talk. I could hardly breathe,” Coulter said. “I just kept pacing around.”
Fire crews arrived to Exit 50 near Walden Avenue after Brunner left. An ambulance also arrived, and it brought Coulter to the Erie County Medical Center. They treated him for smoke inhalation. Coulter said they gave him oxygen and other medications to breathe in, as he couldn’t contain his fits of coughing. Coulter was soon out of the hospital, but he said he was left wishing he could thank the man who he says saved his life.
“I was very, very, very, lucky. If he wouldn’t have been able to break that glass, I would have died,” Coulter said. “He saved my life today. I owe him eternal gratitude.”
Brunner said luck was a factor, but he also said he refused to be called a hero.
“I did it because I saw another man who needed my help,” Brunner said. “God put me there for a reason. Thankfully I was able to break the window.”
It’s not the first time Brunner has taken action in a life or death situation, he said he’s been forced to do it before, he just wants others to also act when fellow men or women are in need.
Coulter said because of Brunner’s actions, he is out of the hospital and is able to kiss his wife and two kids — but he’s still reeling.
“I think I’m going to try to move past it,” Coulter said. “You can’t tell when something like that is going to happen.”