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Passer-by frantic to save trapped driver

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AMERICAN FORK — As flames marched from the passenger's side of the pickup toward the driver, Alex Bray knew he only had seconds to act.

But the door was jammed. And the driver's legs were crushed.

Fearing he would have to watch the driver burn to death, adrenaline kicked in and Bray — with friend Sarah Cannan — rescued the driver shortly before midnight Tuesday in American Fork Canyon.

"The outcome would have been tragic had it not been for the actions of these two courageous individuals," a statement from the Utah Highway Patrol said.

Bray, a 36-year-old software sales manager from Pleasant Grove, was leaving American Fork Canyon with Cannan, 29 of Provo, after a camp-fire gathering.

"Soon we realized something was in the road," Bray said. "I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down,' and she came to a stop and I just jumped out."

A pickup was on fire after hitting a tree and coming to a stop in the middle of the canyon's main road.

As flames rose from the vehicle, passenger Nathan Wagstaff, 19, of Saratoga Springs, climbed over driver, 19-year-old Michael "Spencer" Rhodes and jumped from the driver side window.

Wagstaff pleaded with Bray and Cannan to help his friend. The impact of the crash caused the dashboard and steering wheel to smash and trap Rhodes' legs.

Bray wrapped his arms under Rhodes and tried to pull his body through the window. It didn't work. Then he grabbed Rhodes' knees and tried pulling. That caused Rhodes to shriek in pain because bones in his legs were broken.

Bray glanced at the fire, wondering if he could extinguish it. But flames were shooting 2 feet up and were fast advancing toward Rhodes.

"So I started ripping pieces of the dashboard and the plastic and whatnot, trying to get his legs free," Bray said. "(Cannan) is pulling on the door and trying to get that open. We were frantic because the fire was getting big and getting really hot. It was coming right down to the wire. It was already burning inside the cab next to him."

After about 10 seconds, Rhodes' legs were free. Bray lifted him from the pickup and they hit the ground.

"The right leg of his Levis were burning but I sort of stomped them out with my hand," he said. "And we sat and laid there (and Bray said), 'Thank God, thank God I did not have to watch you burn.'"

Bray and Cannan helped Rhodes and Wagstaff away from the fire's intense heat. Cannan poured on Rhodes' burned leg some water she had in her car for a camping trip scheduled for Wednesday. Cannon stood on top of her car to obtain cell phone coverage. She dialed 911.

UHP trooper Benjamin Cox told the Associated Press that Bray yanked Rhodes from the truck "just as the fire was about to overtake the cab."

An ambulance transported Rhodes and Wagstaff to American Fork Hospital. From there, an ambulance transported them to University Hospital, where they remained Saturday for treatment of leg injuries, Bray said.

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com