Local Heroes Save Two Lives

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By Danielle Bitts

The flames from the car fire are what initially drew the attention of the three heroes. (Photo by David Gurfein)
The flames from the car fire are what initially drew the attention of the three heroes. (Photo by David Gurfein)

Great Neck South’s John Motchkavitz, Michael Passuello and David Gurfein rescued two victims from outside their blazing car following an auto accident at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

The three local residents were driving home on the Palisades Parkway in Alpine, NJ, when something unusual caught their attention—it was a fire. After backing up their vehicle to get a better look at the scene, they stepped out to discover a car engulfed in flames on a service road next to the parkway.

They immediately noticed that there was no fire rescue or first responders at the scene, however they did notice a car stopped nearby that was viewing the accident, as Gurfein described it, “calmly watching the vehicle burn.” This caused the three to think that there was no one in any type of immediate danger. However as they approached the vehicle, they began hearing cries for help. Without hesitation, they followed the voices into the flames.

The three discovered two young men just a few feet from the car and badly injured. One was on fire and the other had suffered a large contusion and laceration on his head. They moved the victims at least 30 meters away from the car to avoid danger from additional explosions.

Motchkavitz, a longtime Great Neck volunteer firefighter, Gurfein, a former marine, and Passuello treated the two men for shock. As the victims began to calm down, they told the three rescuers that there was a third victim, “Jack,” who was still in the car.

Firefighters arrived after Passuello, Gurfein and Motchkavitz pulled the passengers to safety. (Photo by David Gurfein)
Firefighters arrived after Passuello, Gurfein and Motchkavitz pulled the passengers to safety. (Photo by David Gurfein)

Motchkavitz and Passuello trekked back to the burning vehicle where secondary explosions were occurring. Their search was unsuccessful but they continued to scope out the wooded area and tall grass surrounding the accident, thinking that Jack might have been thrown from the vehicle. After thoroughly searching, they returned back to Gurfein and the victims alone.

Law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics began arriving at the scene as Motchkavitz, Passuello and Gurfein continued to care for the victims. They helped strap both men onto backboards and loaded them into the waiting ambulances where they would be transported to the hospital to be treated for their injuries.

Firefighters worked on putting out the blaze and continued a search for Jack. They later discovered that there was thankfully no third passenger in the car that morning.

It appeared that the car had originally veered off to the right of the road and hit a telephone pole, sending the car tumbling and later igniting. “How those two 20-something-year-old kids got out of the car alive, I’m not really sure,” said Gurfein.

Motchkavitz is the department chair of business and technology at Great Neck South High School, a 30-year member of the Great Neck alert fire company and is a graduate of Great Neck North High School. His children attend Great Neck schools.

Passuello is a Sea Cliff resident and former Hofstra football player. He is currently a business and technology teacher at Great Neck South.

Gurfein is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps and Great Neck South High School graduate. He has continued to be involved in all major conflicts in recent years with his unit and is currently running for U.S. Congress. His website is www.gurfeinforamerica.com.

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Since 1908, the Great Neck Record has served the communities of Great Neck, Great Neck Estates, Great Neck Plaza, Kensington, Kings Point, Lake Success, Russell Gardens, Saddle Rock, Thomaston and the unincorporated areas as a source for local news and community events.

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