PROSPECT — Mary McLean was getting ready to go for a run the morning of June 2 when she heard a loud bam followed by a blaring car horn.
Half dressed, she ran to the end of her driveway on Plank Road where a car had crashed into a tree. The door had swung open, but no one had gotten out. In the driver’s seat, Susan Skipp of Prospect lay with her head flung back and covered in blood.
When McLean saw flames licking at the woman’s feet, she knew she had to act fast. McLean woke Skipp up and slung her arm around her, pleading with Skipp to get out of the car. McLean dragged her 20 feet down the road, and within minutes, the entire car was engulfed in flame.
“It went down fast,” McLean said.
PJ Conway, the public information officer for the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect, was in the vicinity when he heard the call for a motor vehicle accident. Thirty seconds later, he got another call that the car was on fire. He wasn’t too worried, Conway said, people often report fire at the slightest sign of smoke. When he got to the scene two minutes later, the flames were pouring out the front of the car.
Conway checked the back seat, but it was empty, he said. Then he saw Skipp lying 20 feet away. There was no one else in the area.
Soon, the rest of the fire department showed up, moved Skipp further out of harm’s reach, and went about putting out the fire.
It wasn’t until later that Conway found McLean, who had run back to her house to get dressed when she heard the sirens coming.
“On that morning, there’s no doubt that you clearly saved (Skipp’s) life,” Conway told McLean Monday night during a ceremony to honor McLean’s heroics.
Skipp was treated for head, spine, and knee injuries following the accident. She left the hospital after two days, just in time to see her two youngest children, Anderson Skipp-Tittle, 10, and Wyatt Skipp-Tittle, 8, perform in a play.
Skipp returned to work last week. Although she said it still hurts to smile, Skipp is recovering from her injuries.
Skipp said, the morning of the accident she was driving to work in Hamden, where she is a teacher at a juvenile detention facility. The next thing she remembers is waking up in a hospital bed.
Everything in the car was burned or melted beyond recognition—everything except a photograph of her two youngest daughters, her daughter’s middle school diploma, her social security card, and her driver’s license.
“That was pretty eerie,” Skipp said.
After recently going through a horrific divorce, Skipp said she was reborn when she was saved from the flames.
“I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere,” she said.
Skipp’s four children are glad their mother is alive to tell the tale.
“There’s nothing that makes your daughters nicer than almost dying,” Skipp said. “I wouldn’t know if I was dead, but they would.”
Her second oldest daughter, Ariana Skipp, 22, said she was with her dad where they live in New Jersey when she got a phone call from her mom’s friend saying she was in an accident.
“We just dropped everything and came to Connecticut,” Ariana said.
She was by her mother’s side in a few hours, she said. Ariana said she had never seen her mom is so much pain.
“It was scary, but she was fine,” Ariana said.
Prospect firefighters and town officials honored McLean for her heroic acts in a ceremony at Town Hall.
“You did what every person hopes they will have the courage to do,” Town Council member Patricia Geary said.
Anderson said she’s not sure she would have had the courage to do what McLean did.
McLean said she wasn’t scared for her own life, but for that of Skipp.
“I couldn’t leave her there,” McLean said, even though she was worried about injuring the woman further as she dragged her away.
She said she acted automatically when she pulled Skipp from the burning car.
“I’m just really grateful that there was someone brave enough to step up, and now there’s four kids with their mom still,” said 25-year-old Ashley Skipp, Skipp’s oldest child.
The ceremony was the first time McLean met Skipp since the accident. Skipp said she was glad to have the chance to thank McLean personally.
“If she had hesitated even 10 seconds, it would have made all the difference,” Skipp said.
McLean said it feels surreal to know she saved the woman’s life.
“I’m glad she’s alright,” McLean said.
Skipp’s four children also expressed their gratitude.
“It was crazy meeting her,” Ariana said. “She’s a brave woman.”
Skipp said she was teaching her students a lesson on integrity at the time of her accident.
“One of the main ideas that the kids were discovering is that integrity is what a person does when no one else is looking. … No one but Mary McLean was around when I was unconscious in a crashed, burning car. She opened the door, stuck her hands and body in and pulled me out. This is the courage, empathy, and strength from which she is made,” Skipp wrote in an e-mail.