ALBANY, Ore. — Terence Jay Shaw, 51, would likely be dead, if not for Albany resident Chuck Zeitler.
Shaw, from California, was driving his semi-trailer truck north on I-5 in the early hours of Sept. 1 when for unknown reasons he collided with the overpass bridge at Highway 20. With the impact, his rig burst into flames.
Just a few seconds later, Zeitler, traveling south on I-5 on his way home from his shift as a boiler operator at the Oregon State Prison, happened upon the scene. The 24-year Navy veteran reacted, laying his motorcycle down and running toward the wreckage and the sounds of Shaw screaming for help.
Having spent his Navy career as a boiler technician, he was conditioned to run toward danger, especially fire, in order to try and save lives. Such behavior, Zeitler said, was in stark contrast to the onlookers at the scene, who were standing with their cell phones recording the chaos.
He reached Shaw just as the flames burned through his seatbelt, letting him fall to the ground. Zeitler then carried a badly burned Shaw from the burning cab, minutes before it exploded.
Shaw was treated at the scene by Tangent Fire Department personnel.
Zeitler, a Christian and an elder member of Fusion Faith Center in Albany, believes God placed him at the wreckage specifically so he could save Shaw.
“I’d left work about 10 minutes late,” said Zeitler, “only because my relief was stuck in traffic, so I had to wait for him to arrive. If I’d have left at the regular time, I never would have happened upon the wreck.”
Zeitler said he does not consider himself a hero, while Shaw’s family does.
“We’re best friends now,” he said, explaining how he’s visited Shaw a couple times at the burn unit at legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, where Shaw had skin grafts applied to his right arm and shoulder and right side, along with 23 stitches.
Asked if he thinks about how things would have gone had the truck exploded a minute earlier, Zeitler only said, “Then I would get to meet my lord a little earlier.”
Zeitler recently became a pastor and plans to open a Christian church for bikers in the valley.
“I believe that’s my calling,” he said.
Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, http://www.dhonline.com