Car Catches Fire on Creek Street; Driver Escapes Without Serious Injuries

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A good Samaritan helped a woman escape injury after her car caught fire last Thursday.

Pennygale Gusman of Yelm was driving her car, a 2014 Fiat 500L, on Creek Street around 4 p.m. Thursday when Dan Sheetz, who was driving in his truck ahead of her, noticed flames beneath her car.

The turn signal on Gusman’s car appeared to be shorting out, Sheetz said at the scene of the fire.

“Then I saw flames start to drip down and smoke coming out from underneath her hood,” he said. “So I crossed in front of her, and stopped her, and told her to get out of the car.”

Gusman fled the car and, seconds later, it burst into flames, she said. Firefighters from Southeast Thurston Fire Authority arrived soon afterward and put out the fire.

In an email, Gusman said she was concerned for her car and other people nearby. It was a surreal experience, she said.

“I was in shock, I was stunned, I was frightened,” she said.

At the scene, Gusman gave Sheetz a hug and said, “Thank you so much.”

Gusman described Sheetz in her email as an “angel,” saying he went the extra mile as a “Good Samaritan.”

Before he stopped her, she had no idea there was anything wrong with her car, she said.

“(I had) no warning otherwise, whatsoever, except this gentleman warning me,” she said.

Sheetz stuck around for hours to speak with law enforcement and Gusman’s husband, who arrived at the scene after she called him. Sheetz repeatedly asked Gusman if she was OK and if she needed anything.

“I definitely plan at a later time to stop by his work and invite him and his family to dinner,” Gusman said, saying it was the least she could do.

Complete strangers stopped by to make sure Gusman was OK, she added.

Gusman, who works as a substitute for the Yelm Community Schools as a teacher assistant, was on her way home from school when the fire occurred, she said.

“It completely touched my heart,” she said. “I was just headed home from school, so some parents with their kids were in the area of my car fire, stopped to make sure I was OK. One mom I didn’t know, she had her two little sons with her. She came up to me and asked if I was OK. She said, ‘I know there’s not much we can do to help, but my boys wanted to give you a hug.’ It completely melted my heart. I felt grateful.”

Looking at photographs of her totaled car, Gusman realizes she could have been in the now-charred driver’s seat.

“The thought and feelings become overwhelming as I could have been in that driver’s seat and severely burned or lost my life through this car fire,” she said. “It is only by the grace of God and His will I am here today.”

Gusman is still in shock as of Monday, she said.

“You see it on TV or movies and in the news,” she said. “But when it’s your family, friends or yourself it puts a whole new perspective on life and how within seconds, all can be gone, even a life. ... I know there were angels present, from heaven and through strangers.”

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists two recalls for the 2014 Fiat 500L, neither appears to relate to a risk of the car catching on fire. One recall is related to the knee air bag improperly deploying. The other involves the delay or inability to select transmission gears.

The Nisqually Valley News called Southeast Thurston Fire Authority on Tuesday to ask if they had determined what caused the vehicle to catch fire. The call was not returned by press time Wednesday.

Gusman said Wednesday morning she hadn’t yet received word on a possible cause of the fire. An insurance adjustor was expected to come out later in the day, she said.

Original report:

A woman driving on Creek Street in Yelm escaped serious injury after her car caught on fire today.

Pennygale Gusman was driving on Creek Street around 4 p.m. today when Dan Sheetz noticed flames beneath her car.

The turn signal on Gusman's car appeared to be shorting out, Sheetz said.

"Then I saw flames start to drip down and smoke coming out from underneath her hood," he said. "So I crossed in front of her, and stopped her, and told her to get out of the car."

Sometime after Gusman exited the car, the front end erupted in flames.

After firefighters from Southeast Thurston Fire Authority put out the fire, Gusman gave Sheetz a hug.

"Thank you so much," she told him.

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