Prospect Students’ Heroic Actions Save Man From Burning Car

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Elizabeth Keane, Copy Editor

This was not the typical day of working at Boston Market for junior Ben Pennino (pictured above). On the evening of Sunday, Jan. 5 around 7:30 p.m., a crash occurred near Elmhurst and Golf Roads. Pennino’s coworker senior Ryan Brock was the first to notice the crash outside.

“There were flames coming out of a car and [it was] a big car crash. Immediately — as soon as I saw the flames — I started running out the door and [Brock was] right behind me,” Pennino said. 

Pennino ran toward the White Chevy Impala riddled with black smoke to open the driver’s side door, at which point the driver “plopped onto the ground.” Pennino dragged the man away from the car, slightly disturbed by the bystanders’ reactions to the situation. 

“I look up, and there’s a circle of [people around me] … they all have their phones out, and they were all filming; not a single one of them came in to help until another minute later,” Pennino said. 

Eventually, two men came to assist Pennino in dragging the man to safety in the grass where Pennino scanned his body for any bruises and put his hand under the man’s head. According to Pennino, the man was continuously falling in and out of consciousness.

“I was trying to talk to him,” Pennino said. “He knew I was there to help [him], and I grabbed onto his hand, and then he grabbed onto my arm and he would not let go.”

An off-duty police officer also came over to assist Pennino before the first responders arrived. Once they did, one put out the fire on the car with a fire extinguisher, only to have the flames erupt again moments later. They told Pennino that he was no longer needed in assisting the man, so he pried the man’s hand off of his arm where it had remained the entire time and went to give his statement to the officer.

“Out of nowhere, the car exploded — not a Hollywood explosion; it’s like if you threw an M80 in a pile of gasoline,” Pennino said. 

Once the incident died down and he had given his witness statement, Brock and Pennino returned to work. About 15 minutes later, a reporter came by searching for the person who pulled the man out of the car. Watch the report here: https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2020/01/05/good-samaritans-race-to-rescue-man-after-mount-prospect-crash/ 

The man he pulled from the car survived; Pennino was told by the first responders that the man would’ve died if he hadn’t helped him. The other car had a father and son inside; the driver, who was the father, died at the hospital afterward, and the son survived. 

Pennino has received copious amounts of recognition in the community and at school. Among one of them was a local charity who dropped off a gift basket to Pennino’s house, complete with popcorn and “the best chocolate chip cookies you will ever have in your life.” Another was his mom, who posted about it on her Facebook page. While he appreciates this, Pennino doesn’t feel that what he did was as heroic as people say.

“In my mind, it had to get done,” Pennino said.

Listen to a full podcast episode with Ben Pennino here: