After a fiery crash in the Catskills, bystanders save lives of four Bronx women

For Bud Holden and Ken Henderson, two old friends who have been fishing the Beaverkill for 40 years, it was supposed to be just another day on the river. But fate had other plans.

On the morning of Thursday, August 21, Holden and Henderson were among a dozen untrained civilians who carried out a heroic rescue, after a horrific accident on a remote country road in Colchester that left one man dead and four women injured.

Holden, a 70-year-old resident of Stockholm, New Jersey, was visiting Henderson, 65. The two set out from Henderson's home in Andes that morning, headed south towards the Beaverkill Valley.

Around 10 a.m., Holden and Henderson were driving down Cat Hollow Road, just outside of Roscoe, when the car in front of them began to slow down.

The accident had happened moments before. A black Isuzu Amigo lay twisted and wrecked in the road. Nearby, a Jeep Grand Cherokee had come to rest on the shoulder, heavy black smoke pouring from its hood. 

They were miles away from town, with no cell service and no officials in sight.

Following the car in front of them, whose driver stopped to help, Holden and Henderson pulled over and raced up to the wreckage. 

"We did a quick look around, looked in the one vehicle, and it was obvious there was serious trouble in that one vehicle," Holden. "And we went to the other vehicle, because there were people in there screaming."

The man in the Isuzu, a 48-year-old Nineveh man with local family ties named William Sharpless, was already dead. Holden, who says his last experience with first aid was "a million years ago" in the Boy Scouts, checked Sharpless's pulse. He felt nothing. 

"I looked in, he was blue, I felt for a pulse," Holden said.

The rescuers' attention quickly turned to the four women in the Jeep: 30-year-old Crest Wood, 34-year-old Alnie Chisholm, 19-year-old Georgette King and 21-year-old Yolanda Jones, all from the Bronx.

One woman was unconscious in the back seat. The others were badly injured and screaming for help, Holden said. 

"By now, other cars had stopped. Total strangers. They all just started pitching in," he said. 

Rocks and a splitting maul

Working feverishly, the rescuers managed to pry the front passenger door of the Jeep open, and get three of the women out of the car. The fourth lay still in the back seat.

Meanwhile, the car had caught on fire, and the flames were growing. 

Holden tried to break the rear window with a rock, but the rock was too small, he said.

Henderson ran to a nearby farmhouse, where a woman inside was already calling 911. He came back with a splitting maul.

Working with other rescuers, they broke the window and pulled the unconscious woman out. 

"It was scary. I didn't think we were going to get them out safe," Henderson said. "It was the worst thing I ever saw."

By the time the first official responder showed up -- a Delaware County sheriff's deputy -- the rescuers had moved all four women to safety. 

John Natoli, another citizen rescuer who helped out at the scene, posted a short video clip to Facebook of the Jeep in flames, before the firefighters arrived.

"I cannot think of a scarier and at the same time more exhilarating moment in my life. I thank God we came along when we did because 2 minutes later the video shows what would have been," Natoli wrote.

"Civilians were heroic"

If ordinary people had not responded, the accident would have claimed more lives, said Delaware County undersheriff Craig DuMond. The civilians also helped direct traffic around the accident while first responders worked.

"You know, generally I think that people will help, and they're inclined to help. It's human nature," DuMond said. "But this is extraordinary. There was a definite degree of danger present. These civilians were heroic in their efforts by braving those dangers."

The cause of the accident is still under investigation, DuMond said. No charges have been filed.

All four women were badly injured. The four were still in the hospital on August 25, DuMond said, but had been moved out of the intensive care unit and were expected to recover.

A dozen Good Samaritans

All told, about a dozen ordinary citizens helped out, Holden said. "I don't think there was any one particular person who made the decision to help. Everybody just converged on it and started doing what they could to help."

When the officials arrived and took over the scene, Holden and Henderson decided to move on and keep their appointment with a few Beaverkill brown trout.

The two spent the rest of the day on the river. "That was probably the best thing we could do, to not think about it," Holden said. "I was more upset later."

Holden, who contacted the Watershed Post after he read the initial news report of the incident ("Head-on crash kills one, injures four in Colchester," Aug. 22), said that he wasn't looking for recognition for himself -- just hoping to tell the good story of the citizen response along with the tragedy of the accident.

"All these total strangers just jumped out and pitched in. No questions asked, no worries," Holden said. "And I hope if I ever get in trouble like that, people are that way for me."