“It was just gut instinct. I didn’t want to see the guy die. He wasn’t going to leave,” said the Huron County maintenance worker who served in the U.S. Navy for five years.
The incident at 15 E. Willard Ave. is under investigation by the Norwalk Police Department and state fire marshal’s office. The Norwalk Fire Department also responded to the residence, which is beside the Huron County Administration Building.
“They knocked it right down,” fire Chief John Soisson said shortly after the incident.
When police and firefighters arrived, the unoccupied van was fully engulfed.
“Their response was phenomenal,” said Huron County working supervisor Steve Minor, who called 9-1-1.
Detective Sgt. Seth Fry said the siding on the house was starting to melt when first responders arrived. The van, which belongs to a resident at 15 E. Willard Ave., was parked at the corner of the house.
“This was reported as an assault. We are still investigating,” Fry said.
The burn victim didn’t provide police a description of his possible assailant.
“The man does not live there. He lives in Sandusky,” Fry said, referring the man who is in his 50s.
North Central EMS transported the man to Fisher-Titus Medical Center.
“He is still in the hospital. He is OK,” Fry said Monday afternoon.
Armstrong and Minor were driving to the county building to drop off some paperwork when they noticed the van engulfed in flames.
“We pulled into the parking lot in my truck,” Armstrong said.
The man who was pulled from the fire scene was standing by the passenger side of the van.
“He was staying put; he wasn’t doing anything,” Armstrong said. “I was yelling for him to get away from the van. … He was just standing there, staring at the ground.”
Minor and Armstrong asked the man if anybody was inside the van. Minor said the man told them there wasn’t, but Minor couldn’t see inside the vehicle due to the flames.
“It looked like he was hunched over,” added Minor, who equated the man’s body language with someone talking on the phone.
“A gust of wind caught his back on fire,” he said. “He dropped to the ground, but he didn’t roll.”
Armstrong approached the man, also asking him if there was somebody inside the van. Similar to Minor, he said he couldn’t see because of the flames.
“The windows started to blow out from the pressure inside the van. His sweatshirt caught on fire. As he was burning, he fell down … but he didn’t roll,” Armstrong said.
He and a neighbor dragged the man to the back of the parking lot of the county administration building, which is about 50 feet away.
“He was fighting us to get back to the vehicle,” Armstrong said.
Minor said by the time Armstrong had the man near the stop sign, they rolled him over “to get him extinguished.”
“It appeared he didn’t want to leave the van,” Minor added.
“I started to throw some snow on him to get the fire out,” Armstrong said during a separate interview. “His neck and arms were bleeding. His pants were on fire as well. He stepped out of those.”
Some damaged clothes, which appeared to be a sweatshirt, were left on the concrete. After Detective Dave Daniels photographed it, Fry placed it in an evidence bag.
Fry said the burn victim wasn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol.