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Man seriously burned in car fire at Tunxis Hill Park

Updated 4:52 pm, Friday, September 7, 2012

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  • A man was seriously burned Thursday night when his car caught on fire in the parking lot of Tunxis Park on Melville Avenue in Fairfield, Conn., police said. Photo by Stephen Krauchick, doingitlocal.com. Photo: Stephen Krauchick

    A man was seriously burned Thursday night when his car caught on fire in the parking lot of Tunxis Park on Melville Avenue in Fairfield, Conn., police said. Photo by Stephen Krauchick, doingitlocal.com.

    Photo: Stephen Krauchick

 

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FAIRFIELD -- A man who ran from his burning car engulfed in flames Thursday night is a Fairfield University student, a spokesman confirmed.

The man's sports utility vehicle burst into flames at Tunxis Hill Park, as middle school Little League players, coaches and fans looked on in horror. The victim was in critical condition Friday afternoon in the burn unit of Bridgeport Hospital, said John Cappiello, the hospital spokesman.

Sources identified him as Justin Hervey, 23, of Armonk, N.Y., who is enrolled in one class at Fairfield University. The fire is believed to have started inside the SUV, and Hervey was conscious when emergency personnel arrived, sources said.

Mike Horyczun, Fairfield University's director of media relations, in a statement confirmed that Hervey was a part-time student at the college, and he suffered very serious injuries in the car fire. "The university community has been asked to keep Justin and his family in their thoughts and prayers," he said.

Horyczun said they are monitoring Hervey's situation very closely and extended support to his family. "The office of counseling and pyschological services has offered support to students who may need assistance in dealing with this difficult situation," he said.

Sgt. Suzanne Lussier, spokeswoman for the Fairfield police, said the students were ages 10-12 and were playing in the Little League fall program. They are from Fairfield Woods Middle School and Jennings Elementary School, she said.

Fairfield Woods Principal Gary Rosato, in an email to parents, said each sixth-grade homeroom teacher addressed the incident with their classes as a whole in order to allow students an opportunity to talk about it.

The three guidance counselors and other support staff have been talking with individual students and parents "as the need arises.''

Rosato addressed the entire sixth grade at lunch in order to acknowledge the event, alleviate some anxiety, and offer the help of the various adults in the building if students want to talk further. "All things considered -- the students and teachers are handling it well,'' the principal said.

School officials are prepared to offer counseling to students who were upset by the incident.

Jim Carolan, the team's manager, admitted the children were visibly shaken by the incident.

"Unfortunately many of them had a clear view of this," Carolan said Friday morning. "The kids were very shaken up. It's not something a kid or adult ever wants to see. It was awful they had to see it."

Carolan credited two parents for moving the children to centerfield and away from the flames.

Witnesses at the Little League game told police they heard a popping sound and turned to see the Chevrolet Tahoe catch on fire. They then saw the victim running toward them, on fire. People at the field -- including Carolan and his three coaches Vincent Giacomazza, John Pierce and Peter Porazzo -- helped put out the flames and called 911, police said.

The four coaches saw the fire, sprinted from the field, leaping a fence to the parking lot, then grabbed a blanket to extinguish Hervey. Giacomazza was treated Thursday at a walk-in clinic for burns to his hands and arms.

Carolan and the other coaches instructed Hervey to "stop, drop and roll" to extinguish the flames.

"The thing I was most impressed with was the composure of the coaches," Carolan said. "They instructed the guy to roll ... it's what they teach the kids in school."

Police said the man's clothes were burned off his body. "The victim suffered significant burns," Police Chief Gary MacNamara said. "It is really a tragic scene. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim and his family."

MacNamara said police were going to assist several children who saw the incident happen and were shaken up. "It's horrific that it happened, but it's also horrific that kids had to see it," MacNamara said.

He praised the quick action of the witnesses who helped aid the victim.

"They helped put the fire out and gave him a chance to live," MacNamara said.

Assistant Fire Chief Scott Bisson said the cause of the fire is being investigated jointly by the fire and police departments. Detectives and a town fire marshal were on the scene Thursday night to investigate.

MacNamara said that because of the seriousness of the man's injuries, detectives will be conducting a full investigation as to what caused the fire.

Bisson said firefighters got the call around 6:10 p.m. The first firefighters on the scene quickly got the blaze under control, while also providing treatment to the victim before EMTs arrived.

When Bisson arrived, he said fire was shooting out of the windows of the victim's Chevrolet Tahoe. Debris, including glass and pieces of the car, were scattered around the vehicle. Witnesses said they could hear exploding sounds as the car's windows popped out because of the heat.

Witnesses noticed the fire's unusal extremeness, saying "something was keeping the fire burning." Carolan also noticed the explosion's sound was different than what he expected.

"It didn't sound like the movies," Carolan said. "It was more of an air explosion, then the cabin was on fire and the windows exploded 30 feet. There was glass everywhere."

Fairfield Police Lt. James Perez said the victim told witnesses he was having car trouble. Carolan saw the car running as he pulled into the parking lot, about five minutes before the explosion.

"I thought he was getting ready to leave," he said.