Brian Crotts, 38, is a retired Marine who has seen a lot. But he told WBTV he had never seen anything like the explosion Sunday night that killed two people in Cleveland County.
Crotts said he and his wife were driving through Fallston when they saw a red glare ahead. As they approached a house on East Stage Coach Trail, another explosion rattled the area.
A truck had crashed into a propane tank, causing a fireball that destroyed the house.
Crotts said he and his wife stopped. He jumped out of their vehicle and ran through the fence.
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“As I went in the yard, the house was rubble, piled up sticks,” he said.
Crotts said an older man, J.B. Newton, was sitting up against some debris. His clothes were gone and a fire was raging beside him, but Crotts said Newton kept pointing.
“I tried to pick him up. He tried to push me away. ‘No. No.’ Then he said, ‘my wife.’ I said, ‘I’ll get your wife if it kills me.’ He went limp. I picked him up and run him to the road.”
Neighbors helped Crotts lift Newton over the fence. The former marine kept his promise and went back for the man’s wife.
“When I got to her, she was pinned under some two-by-fours and the wall,” Crotts recounted. “I picked it up, struggled to get it off of her. I got it off her. She was unconscious.”
He said by that time his leg was hurting. He was also tired and worn out, but he didn’t stop.
“I got her up on my left shoulder. I started out. I could hear the propane or natural gas, whatever it was, about to blow again. It started whistling.”
Crotts said he told the crowd to get away. He carried Naomi Newton to the edge of the fence. Others stepped up to help him put her down.
“I leaned her head back. She wasn’t breathing. I gave her a breath,” he said. “I went to give her a second breath and she took a deep breath and she came to.”
Just as he got Naomi Newton across the fence, another explosion boomed.
The Newtons were both badly burned and rushed to the hospital, where they later died.
Crotts said he keeps seeing an image.
“I can’t sleep. I see that man sitting up, pointing. That’s all he was doing, left hand out, pointing across that rubble at his wife.”
“I keep seeing the man,” he said. “I’ve seen bad stuff before. No words to explain it unless you were there.”
Crotts slipped away from the scene. Neighbors said they didn’t know who the good Samaritan was. He decided to speak publicly, not because he considers himself a hero, but because he has a message for the Newtons’ relatives.
“I want the family to know that lady asked about her husband when she came to, and that man, the only thing he was thinking about was his wife.”
Crotts said he has been out of work since June, when he was injured on his job doing power line work.
Knowing what he knows now, would Crotts do it again? Knowing the emotional toll, would he run into rubble and flames to rescue strangers?
“I would go back in again,” he said.
“I would want somebody to go in and get my family out. When they said there were people in there, I didn’t want nobody to burn alive, nobody to die. And, if they were in there, I wanted to get them out.”