Rescuer says instincts took over in crash that killed former fire chief
Passing motorist smashes windshield, pulls Bob Scott from burning motor home
The man who rescued Springdale residents Bob and Nev Scott from their burning motor home on Sunday credits his small-town upbringing for his act of heroism.
'When you see somebody in distress, you don't just drive by,' said Walter Hohl, 38, of Astoria. 'I've always had a knack for keeping a real level head and making quick and good decisions in emergency situations. I grew up on a farm and needed to think on my feet.'
Hohl was driving home to Astoria on Sunday, Oct. 22, when he happened upon a motor home that veered off Interstate 84 near Cascade Locks and caught fire.
Bob Scott, 76, a passenger in the motor home, died of his injuries.
Bob, former Corbett fire chief, and his wife, Nevalin 'Nev' Scott, 74, were returning home from Tygh Valley, where they had been camping with friends as part of The Honorable Order of Ancient Motor Homes, an Outlook event, when the accident happened.
At 2:37 p.m. near exit 44, the westbound 1986 Tioga Class C motor home ran off Interstate 84. Preliminary information indicates Nev fell asleep at the wheel, said Lt. Gregg Hastings, Oregon State Police spokesman.
Nev said she isn't sure what happened, but remembers steering as hard as she could when she realized the vehicle had left the road. The motor home hit a rock and rolled down a short embankment before flipping onto its passenger side. Everything in the back of the motor home - luggage, groceries, etc. - came crashing forward, burying Bob in the passenger seat.
Hohl and his wife, Shawn, were slowing down to stop for lunch when he noticed the toppled over motor home.
'I didn't see anyone standing outside next to it, and there were no cars parked on the highway, so I immediately stopped, told my wife to call 9-1-1 and jumped out of the car,' Hohl said.
A small fire burned near the rear axle. Hohl could see Nev wandering around the back of the motor home trying to find a way out. Bob was trapped in the front seat.
Hohl grabbed a nearby 5-foot log to punch out the window above the cab and pry the window out.
With the help of a good Samaritan who rode up on a motorcycle, Hohl cleared a pathway through debris inside the motor home and yelled for Nev to climb out.
As she did, there was a loud explosion.
Hohl figured the gas tank blew. Flames, some as high as 40 feet, shot up over the motor home.
'That's when I knew I needed to hurry and get the guy out,' Hohl said.
He quickly turned his attention to the windshield, kicking it as hard as possible to break the glass. When that failed, the man who helped him free Nev grabbed the discarded log, and together, the men shattered the windshield.
Hohl tried to remove some of the debris around Bob's seat and loosen the seatbelt, but he couldn't get it undone. After stepping out of the vehicle to get some air, Hohl asked the small crowd that had gathered near the motor home if anyone had a knife.
No one did.
He ran back to try again.
By then, the motor home's interior had caught fire. Heat from the flames repeatedly drove Hohl from the injured man.
Then he heard his wife yelling that someone had a fire extinguisher. As Hohl sprinted to grab it, someone yelled that Bob was 'coming out.'
Bob had crawled halfway out of the vehicle, and Hohl dragged him from the wreck.
'It was quite a traumatic scene,' Hohl said.
Bob was alert enough to give his name and Social Security number to emergency personnel, his wife said.
LifeFlight arrived and emergency personnel began to treat Bob. He died just as LifeFlight lifted off. The Hood River County Medical Examiner determined that he died of burns and smoke inhalation.
Hohl sustained minor burns to his face, cheek and nose during the rescue attempt. He is recovering at home. Nev was treated for minor injuries at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital and released later that evening.
Jeff Pricher, Cascade Locks fire chief, said Hohl will receive an award for his heroism.
'What he did was probably one of the most heroic things I have ever heard of,' Pricher said. 'He was the only guy who was actively trying to get this gentleman out.'
Hohl just wishes he could have done more.
Although he once served with Astoria's volunteer fire department and trained with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Hohl said his response to the accident was mostly instinct.
The Scott family is thankful someone had the courage to help.
'We are so delighted to have a name of a person who we can go to and shake his hand and thank him,' said Bob and Nev's daughter, Cris Wells, of Troutdale.