What started as an attempted traffic stop on a rural road in Waterboro on Tuesday night could have ended in tragedy if a York County sheriff’s deputy hadn’t rescued the speeding driver from a fiery wreck.

York County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Collins had just turned from Victoria Lane onto the winding, two-lane pavement of New Dam Road about 9:15 p.m. Tuesday when he saw a pair of headlights come whizzing around a curve toward him.

The deputy switched on his cruiser’s radar, which clocked the oncoming vehicle at 65 mph, exactly 30 mph over the posted speed limit, the threshold for a misdemeanor charge of criminal speeding.

“I turned my blue lights on before he even went by me,” said Collins, 41, of Waterboro. “Sometimes it works and they pull right over.”

This wasn’t one of those times.

Instead, Collins said he heard the thrum of exhaust as the oncoming 2009 Chevrolet Silverado seemed to accelerate past him. Collins executed a three-point turn on the narrow road, but as soon as he was pointed in the right direction, the truck was gone around a curve.

“He’s outta sight,” Collins said. “I never saw him.”

Collins said he switched off his blue lights and drove in the direction the pickup had headed. The deputy made it about a half mile when he came upon a sharp, S-shaped curve in the road that breaks right and then left. Traffic was scattered onto the shoulders, and there was debris in the road.

The driver of the truck, 17-year-old Dylan Tardif of North Waterboro, apparently lost control as he tried to negotiate the turn, crossed the centerline and careened into the trees.

James Exley, 33, a neighbor who lives about 100 yards away, said he was lying in bed when he said he heard the truck’s motor, then screeching tires and the unmistakable crunch of twisting sheet metal.

Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Collins pulled Dylan Tardif, 17, from his burning truck after it went off New Dam Road and hit a tree in Waterboro on Tuesday night. Photo courtesy York County Sheriff’s Office

A few feet off the shoulder and into the brush, the pickup lay mangled, a tree trunk standing in the passenger side of the engine bay. The windshield was shattered and the dashboard crumpled. A haze of smoke from the exploding airbags and steam from the radiator hung in the darkness around the wreck.

Collins stopped his cruiser and ran to the vehicle. Although he’s been a full-time police officer since 2014, Collins had been a firefighter since he was 16, and served 23 years in the Scarborough Fire Department before shifting to law enforcement, he said. He knew what to do.

Inside, Tardif was stretched awkwardly across the truck’s center console unconscious.

Collins looked him over and saw that Tardif’s left hand had a deep cut that was bleeding, and his right leg and foot had taken the brunt of the impact. The force of the crash had pushed the dashboard, firewall and center console toward Tardif. The area below the dash near the pedals was crushed, and with it, Tardif’s right foot, which was pinned in place. Tardif was wearing shorts, Collins said, and his right thigh bone was broken and exposed.

“I could see his right foot was kind of folded up near the floorboard under the dashboard, kind of pinned in there. So my initial instinct is he’s got some pretty severe injuries, I’m just going to stay with him, I’m not going to try to get him him out because I don’t want to cause further injury to him,” Collins said. “If he’s got a chance, I’m going to just kind of leave him there.”

“I could see his chest rising and falling so I knew he was breathing at least,” Collins said. He then reached toward Tardif and rubbed his sternum, a technique used to wake people after traumatic injuries. Tardif stirred, and began to groan in pain. He was confused, and didn’t know where he was, but Tardif knew his name.

“Stay with me,” Collins told him. “The fire department is on its way.”

Then through a gap between where the windshield met the hood, Collins saw the orange glow. Flames.

“So my next thought was, I have to go get my fire extinguisher and put the fire out,” Collins said.

Exley, the neighbor, ran down to the scene and watched as Collins raced to his cruiser, retrieved the extinguisher and began to try to put out the fire. Exley said he heard Tardif from the vehicle crying out in pain

“He knew his vehicle was on fire,” Collins said. “He was screaming that he was burning. He was saying, ‘My truck’s on fire, I’m burning up.'”

With each blast of the extinguisher the flames died down, but Collins ran out of fire retardant, and the flames returned. Collins knew he had to get Tardif out.

“I told him that I was going to get him out of that truck, and he needs to bear with me, it’s going to hurt, but I need to get you out of the truck,” Collins said. “You can scream, you can do whatever you need to do, but I need to get you out of the truck now.”

Collins hooked his arms under Tardif’s armpits and pressed his chest to Tardif’s back. Collins pulled once and then again, but the teenager was stuck. So Collins reached under the dash and manipulated Tardif’s foot. The flames had advanced, and were inside the cabin on the headliner and approaching them, Collins said.

On the last tug, Tardif popped free. Collins said he dragged him 10 feet away.

“He was in excruciating pain,” Collins said. Tardif saw his injured leg and was panicking.

“I turned back around, and the entire truck was engulfed in flames.”

Collins and Tardif were on the ground when Deputy Fire Chief Lisa Bennett, who is also a paramedic, arrived after responding from her home, Collins said. Tardif was in bad shape. She immediately asked Collins to call for LifeFlight.

As rescue workers prepared Tardif for the helicopter flight to Maine Medical Center, Collins noticed that the Waterboro fire engine arrived and it was short-staffed, with only one man on the truck.

“The fire was still going,” Collins said. “The woods were on fire, the trees were catching on fire. (The Waterboro firefighter) had just pulled the line off the truck, so I grabbed the nozzle and he charged it so I started extinguishing the fire.”

The flames died down, and Tardif was whisked to Maine Medical Center, where he had surgery for multiple bone fractures, Collins said.

Tardif’s condition was unknown Thursday. Maine Medical Center had no information on Tardif, and a man who answered the phone at Tardif’s home said the teenager was “fine,” and asked for privacy for the family.

Collins said it is premature to determine whether police will file any charges in the case. Right now, Tardif and his family should focus on the boy’s recovery, Collins said.

“If things hadn’t unfolded the way that they had, say (Tardif) had taken another turn and I hadn’t found him, or if I never found him, it could have been a lot different,” Collins said. “He’s very lucky.”

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