HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — The quick thinking of two Henry County police officers saved the life of a driver when his car caught fire.
Henry County officer Kelly Horne was driving behind an Audi on Dec. 2, 2018 on Highway 81 near Race Track Road and noticed that the car’s undercarriage was on fire. According to Henry County Police, Horne attempted to stop the vehicle but was unable to. The car flames intensified as the vehicle’s driver kept going, weaving in and out of the lane.
When the car finally came to a stop, Horne said in the police report that the inside was full of smoke. He told the driver how to get out of the car, but he refused to comply. Police said Horne grabbed his fire extinguisher and attempted to put out the fire so he could save the driver. The extinguisher wasn’t enough to put out the fire, so Horne hit the car’s passenger windows with his baton to try and rescue the driver inside.
Officer William Palmer arrived as backup and also tried to put out the fire with his extinguisher. He was able to get the flames down just enough to open the passenger side door.
Edited body camera video released by the Henry County Police Department shows the chaos of the moment as the officers tried to help the man.
“Get out of the car!”
The driver was instructed to crawl across the front seat and Palmer helped pull the driver out.
“I can’t see him, I can hear him coughing. Come on, get out! Crawl over here to us.”
The driver can be heard coughing and struggling to breathe. The officers stayed remarkably calm as visibility in the video dropped to nothing.
“Give me your other hand buddy. Anyone else in the car with you? Anyone else in the car?”
The officers dragged the driver away to safety before the car became fully engulfed in flames seconds later. The driver told police that he had a loaded pistol underneath the steering wheel. The fire set off ammunition stored in the car, causing a massive fire.
"He's very lucky," said Henry County Police Department Capt. Joey Smith. "And the officers are, as well ... It was a good outcome."
Horne noted in the police report that the driver smelled strongly of alcohol. When Palmer and Horne tried to talk to the driver, 30-year-old Walter Francois, he "wasn't making any sense" and had slurred speech, stating he was "100 percent conjeber," which the officers took as his way of saying "100 percent sober."
Francois told police he drank "5 millimeter Patron" and was trying to get home. After the officers had him checked out by medical personnel, he was arrested for DUI and reckless driving. According to police, he didn't even realize his car was on fire, but admitted that he knew one of tires was a fire hazard. His blood-alcohol content registered at .183 BAC -- over twice the legal limit of .08.
"The individual looked like he wasn't cooperating, it could have been due to his impairment," Smith said.
Officers drove Francois to the hospital and he vomited repeatedly in the back of the patrol car, according to the report. He was eventually released from the hospital.
“Had he not been pulled to safety, the driver would not have survived the event,” Henry County Police said on Facebook.
Palmer and Horne were awarded with the Lifesaving Medal Award for their quick thinking and heroic acts on March 8.