Clemson player helps rescue family on TN highway

troot@thesunnews.comJuly 24, 2013 

A Loris native and former Clemson University linebacker found himself helping a woman, three small children and a dog from a burning car Tuesday afternoon as he drove from South Carolina to his first NFL training camp with the Tennessee Titans, according to other news sources.

Jonathan “Tig” Willard told David Hood, a sports writer for USA Today and TigerNet.com, that he saw the trouble while traveling on Interstate 40 in Tennessee as he headed to the Titans camp.

“I saw this car in front of me, and it had all kinds of black smoke coming out of it,” Willard told TigerNet Tuesday evening. “I tried to speed up and get up next to the car to let them know the car was on fire.”

Willard was able to signal to the woman driving the vehicle to get her to pull over, Willard told Hood.

“When she pulled over, the car was really on fire at that point,” Willard said in the interview. “The driver, she acted like she was in some kind of daze or something. She told me that she didn’t stop because she didn’t think it was her car that was on fire. Another guy stopped, and we managed to get the kids and the dog out and get them to safety, and then I finally got the woman out.”

The rescue happened just before fire took over the vehicle, according to Hood’s story about the incident.

“I was just glad that we got the kids and all of them out of the car,” Willard said.

A Tennessee Highway Patrol report shows the SUV of Cheri Hubbard of South Daytona, Fla., caught fire and burned Tuesday afternoon near mile marker 340. The investigating trooper told Dalya Qualls, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, that the witnesses already had left before he arrived and that Hubbard did not get the names of the men who helped her.

Hubbard did not immediately return a voicemail left on her cellphone by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“I was thinking that I was just doing what everybody else would do, but there were cars just going past us and no one else was stopping, so I don’t know if that is what would happen or not,” Willard said.

Loris High School athletic director Barry Brooks said Wednesday he’s not surprised by Willard’s actions.

“He’s a super kid. He’s a good young man,” Brooks said. “He’s the same kid that he was in ninth grade here.”

Willard could not be reached Wednesday for comment about the incident.

Willard signed a free agent contract with the Titans following the 2013 NFL Draft, according to Hood’s story.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.

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