Holly McNally and her mother were on the way home from the NICU Thursday afternoon when McNally said she spotted a man running on the exit ramp to I-70.
The man was on fire.
“I guess mom- and gut-instinct,” she said. “If that were my child or my husband or my family member, I would want somebody to run up if they could.”
She got out of the car, hopped over a guardrail and began running toward him.
McNally gave birth just five days ago.
Her water broke at 1 a.m. Sunday. But her baby boy was moving so quickly, she said, that he beat doctors into the room – the 35-year-old practically delivered him on her own after laboring for only 26 minutes.
The birth was hard on him, so he’s spent his first few days in the neonatal intensive care unit, where doctors can watch over him. McNally has split her time between the hospital and her far-eastside home.
Shortly before 2 p.m. Thursday, a tanker carrying 4,000 gallons of fuel rolled over and caught fire on the ramp from I-465 southbound to I-70 eastbound, causing “severe, catastrophic damage” to the surrounding area, according to Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Rita Reith. The fuel spilled across the bridge and into the grass, carving a 500-foot path of destruction.
The 59-year-old driver was able to get out of the truck on his own. That's when McNally saw him.
As she was running toward the ramp, McNally encountered another man, who was running with a blanket to help extinguish the flames and cover the man. When they got to the driver, McNally could see he was severely burned.
His clothes had burned away.
They covered him and began walking him away from the fire when the first explosion happened.
“We started to go down the embankment a little bit, and I could smell the fluid running past my feet,” McNally said. She asked the man what he’d been hauling: jet fuel. “I was like, ‘You guys, we have got to get out of here.’”
She didn’t want to act selfishly, she said, but she couldn’t stop thinking of her newborn.
“I’m thinking I’m gonna blow up in an explosion,” she said, “and not see my baby again.”
A second explosion caused the fire to spread, following them down the embankment. The driver, who appeared to be in shock, began to slow down. McNally was worried they would have to carry him, and she might not be strong enough. Thankfully, another man ran to the embankment and helped move the driver to safety.
"Without question, those good Samaritans saved this driver's life," Indiana State Police Sgt. John Perrine said.
Indiana State Police Trooper Chris Hanson drove down the embankment to meet them. Reith said Hanson used clothing from his own gym bag to cover the man until emergency medical technicians arrived.
The driver was taken to an area hospital in critical condition, Reith said. The tanker was practically obliterated by the fire and explosions, and the bridge is being inspected for significant damage.
The incident remains under investigation, although preliminary information released by Indiana State Police indicates speed may have been a factor in the roll-over.
None of the good Samaritans who came to the driver’s aid were injured. Despite the risk, McNally said: “I just couldn’t leave somebody like that.”
But she’ll get to see her baby again. And by 6 p.m. Thursday, she still hadn’t talked to her older children, ages 8, 11 and 15, to tell them about the adventure she had this afternoon.
McNally hopes to stay in touch with the driver. She wants updates as he recovers.
Although she’s not particularly religious, McNally said she feels as if the timing of everything — from reaching him on the ramp to the getting him in the state trooper’s car — couldn’t have been better.
“Somebody was watching out for all of us.”
IndyStar reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey contributed to this article.
Call IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at 317-444-6156. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.