MANCHESTER — Two soldiers, among about a half-dozen motorists who stopped Tuesday afternoon to try and help an injured driver and her young daughter, say the crash has taught them some valuable lessons.
Michelle Maslanka, 35, of Laconia, was trapped inside her 2008 Subaru Outback, which had rolled over on Interstate 93 North near the Exit 7 on-ramp in a 5:18 p.m. crash and was resting on its roof when New Hampshire National Guard Capt. Robert Burnham of the 12th Civil Support Team in Concord pulled over to help.
"I'm pretty certain that's what saved her life," he said of the seat belt. "I don't think I will ever forget to put mine on from now on."
Spc. Lee Kershaw of Hillsborough, is a U.S. Army Reservist assigned to the 4220th U.S. Army in Shoreham, N.Y., currently on temporary assignment at the Manchester U.S. Army Recruiting Office where her husband SSgt. Christopher Kershaw is station commander.
When she pulled off the highway Tuesday, she saw smoke coming from the undercarriage of the overturned car and saw a motorist at the crash with a fire extinguisher.
She, along with Burnham and the other motorists, tried to get the car doors open to reach Maslanka, whose only concern was for her daughter.
Realizing she couldn't crawl inside to reach her, Kershaw turned her attention to Maslanka's daughter.
She went to find the little girl, who was being tended to by a nurse who had a First Aid kit in her car.
"She was very, very scared but very, very brave," Kershaw said of the child, who she held in her lap, making sure she faced in the opposite direction from her mother's crashed car.
Kershaw tried to distract the child with talk about school and swimming.
Maslanka's car did not catch fire but Kershaw said the accident made her realize that she and everyone else needs to have a fire extinguisher and a First Aid kit in their vehicles.
"If that car had engulfed in flames and we couldn't get her out, that woud have been horrible," Kershaw said.
Brian Hook said Wednesday his wife remains hospitalized in Elliot Hospital with a serious neck injury, but his daughter is OK.
He said he is thankful for all of the motorists' help. He said his mother will be flying in to help out while his wife recuperates.
Burnham had high praise for State Trooper Juan Infante, who arrived on the scene soon after the crash and immediately took control.
"He was awesome!" Burnham said.
Burnham said the scene was chaotic when he came across it, having turned onto I-93 North from Route 101 West.
A handful of people were already at the car, he said, and one of them had removed the child from it. Burnham said he saw a woman leading the little girl to safety.
While motorists tried to get into the car to reach Maslanka, they didn't know how to do it because the doors were locked and sealed shut because of the crash.
Initially Maslanka was unable to communicate with them.
Infante, he said, broke the front window to gain access and then Burnham broke the window on the rear passenger door with a baton, crawled inside and unlocked the front passenger door.
By then, Manchester firefighters were on the scene and they took Maslanka out through the passenger door.
Burnham said he and others on the scene were concerned for Maslanka because the car was upside down, her neck was contorted and at first she was unresponsive. When they reached her, the first thing Maslanka was concerned about was her daughter.
"I asked her what her daughter's name was and then I went to tell the daughter her mom was going to be OK. And she was," he said. That's when he met Kershaw.
Kershaw and Burnham played down their part that afternoon.
Both said they believe that what they did is what people should do.
"Stop and help," Burnham said.
Kershaw said she hoped what she and the others did is not unusual.
"There were a lot of people who sprang into action," she said. "There were a lot of people who tried to help, not just us."