‘I can’t just stand here and watch’: Cobb officer helps firefighters pull woman from burning car

Upon arriving at an overturned vehicle that was engulfed in flames, firefighters and police officers weren’t sure whether anyone was inside.

Then 22-year-old Cobb County Officer Oscar Escarcega heard a woman screaming for a moment before abruptly stopping.

“You have this helpless feeling that you want to go in and do something, but the car's completely engulfed in flames,” Escarcega said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

For minutes, all Escarcega and fellow Officer Brett Gallimore could do was watch as two Marietta firefighters began to hose down the car Sept. 5.

The vehicle was pinned between a concrete barrier, a chain-link fence and a heavily wooded area near South Cobb Drive and Gym Road, Cobb police said in a news release.

Channel 2 Action News found the vehicle that the woman was trapped in. (Photo: Channel 2 Action News)

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As the Marietta firefighters — Lars Marvin, Paul Molinaro and James Walker — continued to hose down the vehicle and approached the passenger-side door, they eventually were able to spot the woman in the driver’s seat.

Escarcega, who joined the the department in 2017 according to his public Facebook page, heard the firefighters yell that they found her, and he quickly jumped the concrete barrier and rushed toward the car.

“At that point, something inside of me just said, ‘You have to do something. I can’t just stand here and watch,’” Escarcega said.

As he ran into the heat and smoke, he said he remembers coughing but pressing on.

“What I was thinking the entire time is that if I had a loved one in that car, I’d want emergency personnel to do everything in their power to get to that individual trapped inside that car,” Escarcega said. “I couldn’t care less about my safety at that point.”

When he reached the door, he saw a melted steering wheel, a dashboard engulfed in flames and a badly burned woman.

The firefighters had pulled her partially out of the vehicle, and Escarcega grabbed her legs as a firefighter grabbed her arms. They quickly carried her over the concrete barrier and began giving her medical attention.

Her lips were black, she couldn’t speak and she was barely conscious, Escarcega said. She was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital where she is recovering in the hospital’s burn unit.

Escarcega wasn’t able to meet the victim, but he did receive a letter from her parents saying she’s in critical but stable condition.

“No one deserves to be in a situation like that ... and I’m glad we were able to save this woman,” Escarcega said.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

In other news:

Investigators released surveillance photos of the man they believe is the suspect. It is unclear whether he is a student.