A 60-year-old Cumming woman died following a three-vehicle wreck on Ga. 400 south Monday morning.
The collision, which occurred about 11:15 a.m. south of Pilgrim Mill Road (Exit 16), shut down the well-traveled traffic artery for more than an hour.
Maria Josefa Martinez, who was driving a 2009 Toyota Yaris involved in the crash, was pronounced dead at Northside Hospital-Forsyth, according to Forsyth County Sheriff’s spokesman Doug Rainwater.
Rainwater said that Martinez was a custodian at Shiloh Point Elementary School in south Forsyth.
The crash investigation is ongoing, but Rainwater said the Toyota collided with a Freightliner tractor-trailer and a 2004 handicapped-equipped Ford Econoline van, which then caught fire.
The driver of the van had been previously paralyzed from the chest down and was unable to get of the van using its chair lift due to the blaze, Rainwater said.
“Civilians pulled him from the van while it was on fire,” he said. “They saved his life.”
Todd Hollaway was driving behind the van when the wreck happened.
Hollaway, a paramedic in a neighboring county, was off duty and en route to Atlanta, but pulled over to assist as he would for work.
“It was all just gut instinct, I reckon,” he said. “I knew that we’d have several people who would be hurt.”
Gary McBryar was traveling north on Ga. 400 to Ellijay with a friend when they saw the crash across the median.
McBryar said it resembled a stunt scene from a movie, only it was real. He stopped immediately and ran across the highway without hesitation.
“It’s what you do,” he said. “With something like that, you don’t stop and think.”
After a few minutes attending to Martinez, the five or six people who had stopped heard someone yelling for help from the van, McBryar said.
The van had started smoking and then burst into flames, he said.
“We were trying to open the side door so he could get his wheelchair back to the lift gate and get out, but the doors were jammed because of the impact,” he said.
“We ran around to the other side and everybody was able to get him out and carry him up to safety.”
McBryar, Hollaway and another man attempted to save the wheelchair, but the flames grew too fierce.
The van driver, whose name has not been released, was also taken to the hospital with what Rainwater described as minor injuries.
According to Rainwater, the three men who helped pull the paraplegic out of the van are “heroes.”
To McBryar, however, the real credit should go to the public safety responders who arrived within five minutes and did their jobs without hesitation.
“They didn’t give up,” he said of their efforts to save Martinez. “They kept fighting.”
The fatality was the 11thof the year on Forsyth County roads and first since late July.