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TOKYO — Two servicemembers assigned to Stars and Stripes in Tokyo helped rescue a Japanese man from a burning van Thursday afternoon, according to eyewitness reports.

Lt. Col. Dan Todd, commander, and Master Sgt. Isaac Morrow, first sergeant, were traveling on the Chuo highway when they spotted a van smashed against the median on the opposite side of the road. After vaulting the divider, they joined a Japanese man in trying to free the driver from the wreck.

Todd said the driver was convulsing and appeared to be in some sort of seizure in the locked vehicle. The accelerator was slammed to the floor and with the engine screaming, the spinning tires threw debris all over the highway, Todd said.

Todd and Morrow couldn’t smash out the windows with a rubber mallet the other Japanese man provided. But a truck driver also stopped to help.

“I saw two Americans dashing toward a wrecked van, jumping over the median,” said Jun Shigezumi, who lives in Tokyo. “I followed them with a crowbar that I happened to have in my car after I saw them trying hard to open the window.”

Trying not to further injure the driver, Todd smashed out the passenger side rear window and both he and Morrow tried to reach the door lock switch.

Morrow said during the commotion, the driver stopped convulsing and stared at them through the window, apparently in shock.

One of the Japanese men smashed out the front seat passenger window. Todd, seeing flames crawling from under the hood into the van’s cab, climbed through the window and unfastened the driver’s seatbelt. With Morrow’s help, they got him out and away from the car.

“I thought he was going to burn to death,” Todd said. “I knew we had to act quick.”

Morrow also attempted to keep the traffic as far from the wreck as possible on the narrow two-lane highway.

“I was afraid it was going to blow up and I wanted to minimize casualties,” Morrow said.

As they walked the driver down the highway, the van exploded, sending flames and black clouds of smoke billowing into the air.

“Pieces and parts were flying everywhere,” Todd said.

Shigezumi said he was impressed.

“Merely standing near a burning car is scary enough but the American entered the burning car to save a life,” he said via a phone interview late Thursday afternoon.

Toshio Ishiki, a Tokyo Metropolitan Police Expressway Patrol Division spokesman, confirmed the accident occurred at about 1:35 p.m. He said the 46-year-old driver was changing lanes when he was struck from behind by another vehicle. Ishiki said the driver was taken to a nearby hospital but officials there declined to comment on the driver’s condition early Thursday evening.

Todd, who flew as a KC-135 navigator for 10 years, said he had practiced plenty of emergency response scenarios but always wondered how he would perform in a real situation.

“There was no doubt in my mind,” Todd said. “I had to take care of the situation right away … had to put away the fear.”

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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