- Associated Press - Friday, December 16, 2016

BENTON, Mo. (AP) - Two fast-acting southeast Missouri deputies are credited with averting a catastrophe by pulling a man threatening suicide from his burning car before he could drive into a fireworks store next to a gas station.

The Southeast Missourian (https://bit.ly/2gSHcSV ) reports that the suspect came to the attention of Scott County deputy Tim Hill Wednesday night when he drove away from a gas station without paying.

Hill pursued the suspect, who stopped at another gas station near the Boomland fireworks store in Benton. Sheriff Rick Walter and deputy James Britton responded to help.

The deputies could smell gasoline coming from the man’s vehicle and later learned he had doused himself with the fuel. The man was holding a lighter and threatening to drive into the store, blow it up and kill himself, Walter said.

Authorities evacuated customers and staff from Boomland, the gas station and a nearby McDonald’s as law enforcement talked to the suspect. Deputies deployed stop sticks in front of his vehicle and blocked the entrance to the gas station.

Suddenly, the man ignited the inside of the car. Hill and Britton pulled the man from the burning car and dragged him to safety as firefighters extinguished the vehicle before it or a nearby gas tank exploded.

“I guess there was enough inside gasoline that probably within 30 seconds of having him out on the ground, the inside of the vehicle was fully engulfed,” Walter said. “He was fighting the whole time. We pulled him several yards from the car because he had gas on him and we had gas on us.”

Britton was treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation. The suspect was taken to a hospital for mental health evaluation but was otherwise unharmed. Authorities have not decided if he will be charged with a crime.

“In this case, you’re at a gas station; not only it is a gas station, but it’s fireworks,” Walter said. “That could have been very bad.”

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Information from: Southeast Missourian, https://www.semissourian.com

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