SABATTUS — He heard the crash from his kitchen. As his sons ran out the door, Jim Levesque hobbled after them, lame and home from work with four broken ribs after a ladder mishap.

A pickup had wrapped around his neighbor’s tree and burst into flames, the impact so bad that the GMC nearly split in half. Flames licked out of the gas tank and up the tree. Levesque found passers-by wrestling with a garden hose, desperate to put out the fire.

He says he looked around the gathering crowd and tried to pick out the driver.

“I go, ‘Where is he?’” Levesque said. “Everyone says, ‘He’s in the truck.’ I just couldn’t stand there; I had to do something.”

He dove through a passenger window, and with help from son Jake and Sabattus police officer Ralph Destefano, dragged the unconscious man out moments before the cab exploded. For that, father and son are being honored Saturday, before town meeting, with a citizen’s hero award from the Sabattus Fire Department.

In his 20 years with the department, Chief Don Therrien couldn’t remember that award being given out.

“This doesn’t happen every day in Sabattus, especially to be johnny-on-the-spot and risk his own life,” Therrien said. “If James and Jacob weren’t there, we would have been pulling a body out, for sure.”

The accident occurred July 14 last year on Marsh Road, just up the hill from a bend in the road, in the middle of the afternoon. Jeffrey Brough, 28 at the time, hadn’t taken the turn sharply enough, hitting one tree and slinging his truck around another. An officer was driving a short distance behind Brough, who was eventually charged with operating after suspension and driving to endanger, according to the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office.

Levesque, 43, said he’d heard a really bad car crash once before, the sound of breaking glass and crunching metal, so he’d prepared for a bad scene as he lumbered up his driveway. He’d broken his ribs two weeks before when a wooden ladder broke beneath him and fell on his back. Normally, he wouldn’t have been home in the middle of the day.

When he arrived at the scene, “At that time the tree was engulfed pretty good,” Levesque said.

Jake, 18, ran back to their house and grabbed two fire extinguishers to help the people with the hose. Levesque said he didn’t initially see Brough because the driver had slumped over the wheel in the smoky cab. He tried the passenger door first — no luck. But, with that window down, he was able to crawl inside and free Brough while Jake shot the extinguisher into the cab. In the last seconds, Levesque said he started to run out of energy. Just then, officer Destefano reached over Levesque and together they yanked Brough out.

“He came out of the truck like he had wings on,” Levesque said. “It was 10 seconds before it was fully engulfed. It was right in the nick of time.”

Brough came to on the ground with police shaking him. He was taken away by a LifeFlight helicopter.

Levesque said he was sore afterward and took some razzing from co-workers (“What, you’re too hurt to work, but you’re OK enough to rescue someone?”).

“I got pats on the back and, ‘Why would you do that, put yourself in harm’s way?’” he said.

A year after the accident, the tree next door to his house is still scarred and missing several feet of bark.

“I just think it was unreal what he did,” Therrien said. “(Brough) ought to wake up every day and thank his stars.”

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This story has been updated from its original version

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