A Lexington County woman was alive moments before her car burst into flames after a crash Tuesday on a rural road near Gaston.
"She was hollering, 'Please don't let me die,'" said Ricky Spires, 37, who burned both arms reaching into the car trying to pull the woman out.
The woman, Barbara J. Morton, 29, of 5340 Marjorie Court, Lexington, was jammed beneath the front dash, Spires said Wednesday, and he could not extract her from the driver's seat of her burning Dodge Neon sedan.
But her 3-year-old son was saved by Ray Shealy, the driver of the van, who authorities said caused the accident.
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Spires, choking with emotion, said, "I tried. I reached in and grabbed her. She was trying. She throwed her arms around my head. I was trying to pull her out. It started burning my arms, so I had to turn her loose.
"With her being pinned, it was just too late."
Spires, who lives nearby, had run to the scene just after the crash.
Besides the growing fire, Spires, 37, was hampered by bad leverage. Unable to open the driver's door, he had to lean in through the back door to try to pull Morton to safety.
About that time, Morton's longtime fiance, Michael Pound, the father of their child, was driving to the couple's home when he came upon the wreck.
"He sees his baby boy in another person's arms, and he sees my sister in the car, and then the car caught on fire," said Georgette Morton, Barbara's sister. "He saw that, so he's not doing good."
The boy, Mikey Pound, suffered some friction burns from the seat belt strap but is physically unhurt, Georgette Morton said. Emotionally, it's another story for Mikey, who will turn 4 in February, she said.
"He sees the whole accident. He saw the big white van hit his mom, and his mom is dead. He knows his mom is asleep and is in heaven."
Lexington County Coroner Harry Harman issued a news release Wednesday saying Morton died "as a result of severe trauma to her head and other parts of her body."
Authorities charged Shealy, 40, with failure to yield to Morton's vehicle.
Shealy's Ford E-150 van had made a left turn in front of Morton's oncoming Neon near where Ray Shealy lives on Sharon Church Road, officials said. Morton's car struck Shealy's van, spun into a ditch and caught fire. Small at first, the fire got larger and hotter.
Neighbors and bystanders quickly gathered at the scene. Some were trying to help.
"The person that was driving the van was the one that saved the little boy," said S.C. Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Josef Robinson.
Shealy's rescue of Mikey was the only bright spot in the fiery tragedy.
The crash happened just before sunset on Sharon Church Road, a peaceful stretch of narrow two-lane about eight miles east of Gaston. The Lexington County road is flanked by fields, pine woods, houses and mobile homes.
That peace was shattered by a huge bang that brought neighbors running to the scene of what quickly became an inferno, sending clouds of thick, orange smoke skyward.
Shealy, who works as a plumber, was said to be distraught and unable to talk to a reporter who visited the scene Wednesday afternoon.
"All Ray kept saying was, 'I couldn't get her out,'" said Jason Shealy, 37, a cousin.
"He did everything he could do," Jason Shealy said. "A lot of people would have walked off from that burning car. He is not in any kind of shape to be talking. He feels pretty bad, taking medication, trying to get his nerves calmed down."
Immediately after the accident, Jason Shealy said, his cousin went right to the burning car and saved the child. "He couldn't get her out. Then he heard the (boy) in the back seat."
After he pulled the boy from the car, Ray Shealy gave him to his wife, Robin, who took the child from the scene so he wouldn't breathe the smoke.
Jason Shealy said he has talked to his cousin extensively about the crash. Ray Shealy's pastor also has been with him.
"I was on the phone till 4:30 this morning, talking to him, and trying to get him calmed down," said Jason Shealy.
"I told him, 'Ray, you saved the baby.' And he said, 'I couldn't get her out.' That is what is in his mind. Just the sight of her - that he couldn't get her out. He's really tore up about that."
Spires said he is haunted by what happened.
"You think, 'I could have done this or I could have done that.' When you see something like that, you just don't get over it, you know?"
Georgette Morton wanted people to know about her sister.
"She was a great person, a great mother, and a great friend. She was just a wonderful, friendliest, do-anything-for-anyone kind of person," Georgette Morton said.
She said the family is thankful to those who saved Mikey and who tried to save Barbara.
A complete accident report on the incident was not available Wednesday.
The Highway Patrol is investigating.