Driver (87) thanks ‘guardian angel’ after heroic rescuers pull him from burning car after crash on busy Peterborough road

An 87-year-old driver who had a ‘miraculous’ escape after a crash on a busy road has thanked his ‘guardian angel’ - and the rescuers who pulled him to safety.

Thursday, 29th July 2021, 5:00 am
Ashley, William and Danny, who met up after the collision

William Smails - known to many by his middle name, Peter - faced every driver’s worst nightmare at about 2.25pm on Sunday afternoon when his accelerator stuck open as he drove down the slip road from the Nene Parkway towards Oundle Road.

Despite hitting the brakes as hard, and for as long, as he could, he could not bring the Volvo to a stop before he reached the junction on one of Peterborough’s busiest roads, speeding towards the mini roundabout.

Miraculously, he managed to avoid any other traffic - and swerved to narrowly avoid colliding with a mum pushing a pushchair, before finally coming to a rest when he hit a wall and a tree.

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But the danger was not over yet, as the car started to fill with smoke.

Thankfully for William, Ashley Rice, who witnessed the crash, sprinted to pull him out of the car, while Danny Chaffe, part of the management team at the Gordon Arms Pub, ran out with a fire extinguisher to make the scene safe.

William met up with Ashley and Danny this week to say thanks, after he escaped from the crash with just minor injuries.

William, from Orton Longuville, said; “I was driving home from the hospital to visit my wife, and was on my normal route home, when I heard a dull thud from the car.

“Then the accelerator just went off. I was driving faster than I have ever done before. I just stood on the brakes.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it. If there had been two lanes of traffic on the slip road, there would have been nothing I could have done. Thankfully, one was empty.”

After crashing into the wall, William was left dazed.

He said: “I knew I was alive, but that was all I knew.

“Then a man came and got me out of the car.

“I didn’t even know the car was filled with smoke until I was told later.

“If I had hit a car, I would not have made it. I must have been travelling at 40mph when the crash happened. I am a believing Christian, and I think there was a guardian angel looking after me that day. I was praying to God that I didn’t hit anyone.”

He paid tributes to both Ashley and Danny, describing them both as ‘gents.’

He said: “I really want to thank everyone who came to help. They did not have to, but they are real gents.”

Ashley (31),who is a full time carer for his disabled son, had been driving past on his way to pick strawberries with his family.

He said; “I was going out with my partner and my two kids. As we went past the Gordon Arms, I saw a car coming down and straight into a brick wall.

“I stopped the car, put the hazards on and ran over to the vehicle.

“I tried to open the front door, but there was a log keeping it shut. I got the log - it was about 12 inches thick - out the way, opened the door, and pulled the man out. I could see the car was full of smoke, so I had to get him away. Two minutes later, the car had gone up in flames.

“I was more bothered about him than me. I didn’t know who was in the car - I first thought it might be a group of kids. I just knew I had to help.”

While his first thought was for William, Ashley, from Werrington, said he knew how close he had come to being involved in the accident himself.

He said; “If I had been travelling 5mph faster, or not seen the car, he would have taken me out.

“I saw he narrowly missed a woman pushing a pram. It was amazing no one was seriously hurt.”

Danny (46) from Stilton, said he was called to the incident by staff at the pub.

He said: “The staff called me out - I am the first aider.

“As I got out, the driver was out of the car, but there was also smoke coming from the car.

“I grabbed a foam fire extinguisher, and emptied it on the fire.

“I then evacuated the people in the house near by in case the car went bang. I have had fire training so I knew what to do.

“There were three people in the house, so we had to get them somewhere safe.

“I also stopped the traffic coming along.

“I didn’t think about it - I just knew I had to help.

The staff at the pub came out to help those affected by the crash - from the mum who was narrowly missed by the car, to the emergency services.

Danny said: “It was such a collective effort from everyone.

“The crash could have been a lot worse. If it had happened on a school day, or he had hit another car, who knows what would have happened.

“There was definitely someone watching over him that day.”

William was taken to hospital, but is now recovering at home, taking pain killers.

He said the crash meant he probably would not get behind the wheel again.

He said; “I think I will probably rely on taxis and lifts from now on.

“I had a bit of pain caused by the air bag going off, and a few other bits, but I have been taking pain killers.”