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State troopers injured while saving woman trapped in burning SUV

State Police Trooper Jacquline Del Villar State Police Sgt. Henry Spight rescued woman from burning vehicle. Sunday March 4 2012.

State Police Trooper Jacquline Del Villar and State Police Sgt. Henry Spight rescued a woman from a burning vehicle. Sunday, March 4, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 6, 2012 8:09AM

Henry Spight rescued two people from a burning vehicle as they sat motionless in fear nearly 13 years ago. The Illinois State Police sergeant did it again early Sunday — this time with a lot of backup.

Trooper Jacqueline Del Villar was the first to respond to the 4 a.m. drunken-driving crash on the Sibley Boulevard ramp in Dolton. She ran to the burning Chevrolet Tahoe that had plunged into a tree. Tamara Jackson’s body hung outside the driver’s side window as more than 15 bystanders surrounded the flames. Both of Jackson’s legs were stuck underneath the dashboard.

“She [Jackson] was grabbing onto my duty belt, afraid that I would leave her there,” Del Villar said.

That’s when Spight arrived. Del Villar was already working to pull Jackson out, with the help of a bystander, but she would not budge. And the flames were too much.

Spight grabbed a fire extinguisher from his squad and doused Jackson’s legs. Within 20 seconds, the entire engine compartment went ablaze, with even more flames shooting at Jackson and her rescuers.

Spight finally pushed down on Jackson’s ankles and dislodged her from the dashboard. He could feel someone behind him, using his force to also pull Jackson, and she was out. Sixty seconds later and the entire SUV became engulfed in flames.

Spight’s only thought during the rescue: time is running out. “It was fear of time because I knew from prior experience that type of vehicle is going to fully engulf. It was just a matter of time.”

Later charged with DUI, Jackson, 34, told troopers she had a “ton to drink” that night. She was well above the legal drinking limit, police say. The Chicago woman walked away from the crash with several cuts and abrasions to her legs and a bloody mouth.

Del Villar and Spight suffered minor burns to the hands. The bystander who helped the two pull Jackson from the fiery SUV simply left after the rescue: “I don’t know who that person is . . . but thank you for your help,” Spight said.

State Police say Sunday’s crash is just part of a “very tough winter so far,” which has included a rash of wrong-way drivers and alcohol-related fatalities.

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