CrossFit Coppertop Crew Lifts Car Off Accident Victim in Daring Rescue

September 26, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Sam Lambert
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It was a normal Friday morning at CrossFit Coppertop in Amherst, OH on September 16. The sleepy 5 AM crew filtered into the gym, grabbed foam rollers and were working out some kinks on their bodies. Some of them used the rollers as pillows for a few more moments of rest before the clang and bang of the impending workout.

“I had nine people in that morning,” said Sam Lambert, who co-owns Coppertop with his wife Carolyn. “One of the women was running late, so we hadn’t started the warm-up yet,” he continued. “It wasn’t such a full class that I had to worry about sticking to a strict timeline and the 5 AM group is a very tight-knit group, they don’t mind waiting for one of their crew.” 

Lambert said they were just about to get moving, when the power went out. 

“Folks were tying their shoes and getting up off their butts, and everything went black,” Lambert said. “At 5 AM, if the lights go out, it’s just pitch black.”

What Lambert and his athletes didn’t know yet was that a car had just careened into a telephone pole knocking out power for the whole block, just down the street on Route 58.

“Once the lights went out, one of the class members, Jared Dunn, said that he thought he heard a crash outside,” Lambert remembered. “We all went out to investigate and I was using my phone flashlight. We walked the 50 or so meters around the building to the intersection and I saw a garbage truck sitting in the middle of the lane and a telephone pole snapped in half, hanging by the power lines.”

Luckily, he said “none of the wires were down, that was really the best case scenario at this point.”

Things started to move fast. Lambert saw the two garbage men outside the truck yelling toward the median ditch, which was about ten feet deep and then a young man crawled out of the ditch, through the weeds, which Lambert said were easily six feet high. 

The Coppertop crew still didn’t know the extent of what had happened, but things were coming into focus; and a nightmare scenario was unfolding before their eyes.

The man who had crawled from the weeds was “out of sorts” according to Lambert, and “didn’t know what was going on.” Now though, Lambert and Dunn could hear two more people arguing, a man and a woman.

They heard a woman scream “my fucking teeth, you knocked my fucking teeth out, you wrecked my car,” Lambert recounts, and the man yelled back “you’re fucking drunk, you don’t know what’s going on.” Then they both climbed out of the ditch, covered in mud.

“All you could see was brown and eyes and then the man grabbed her arm and they took off running,” Lambert said. No one was going to chase them, he said.

The Rescue

In the meantime, the first man had crawled back into the ditch, seemingly more cognizant now, and began yelling “there’s someone else down here!” It was at this point that they saw the overturned car, facing the wrong direction, at the bottom of the ten-foot ditch.

Lambert and Dunn, along with the two garbage men jumped into the ditch, following the other accident victim. It quickly became clear that there was one more victim, partially pinned under the vehicle in the mud, and the two CrossFitters and two garbage men decided to try to lift the car to unpin the other victim.

“Four of us got this car lifted up,” said Lambert. “We were surprised to lift it up as far as we were. We couldn’t flip it all the way because it was up against the other side. Yeah, so we were able to get it up. Enough that this guy was able to climb in completely.” 

Even though he had seemed to come to just moments before, now he was completely inside the vehicle (being held up by the four men), but he was not helping his friend who was pinned underneath. According to Lambert, he was rifling around “all we can assume. He was looking for one of two things, either drugs or his phone–he’s not very concerned about the other guy.” Then, he passed out. “He was unresponsive.”

It’s at this point that another Coppertop gym member, April Pangersis, entered the scene. Lambert yelled to her “see if you can drag this guy out,” referring to the first victim they had encountered who was now passed out, halfway under the vehicle.

“Most of us had a leg under some portion of [the car] while we’re holding it trying to like, I mean, imagine flipping a tire–how you put that leg under the side.”

Sam Lambert

“She grabbed him by his hips and dragged him out of the car,” he recounted, and then helped him, only half-conscious, up the bank to the top. Pangersis immediately returned to the scene to attempt a second rescue from the car.

By now Lambert estimates that the men had been holding the car up for two to four minutes, he remembers time moving slowly and says it felt longer.

To paint a better picture, he described the static hold they were doing as the halfway point of a heavy tire or pig flip. “Most of us had a leg under some portion of [the car] while we’re holding it trying to like, I mean, imagine flipping a tire–how you put that leg under the side,” he said.

“That’s the position we’re in. And we’re in a static position holding this thing.”

Pangersis crawled into the car a second time and pulled the other victim’s arm through the sunroof, back into the interior of the car. “He was completely limp,” Lambert said, “and she wasn’t able to unhook his seatbelt.”

The men asked Pangersis to back out of the car, and now that the final victim was no longer pinned and first responders were arriving on the scene, they set the car down.

According to the Chronicle-Telegram, that final victim “was flown by helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.” 

Fitness That Helped Save a Life

In the aftermath, Lambert had a chance to reflect on everything that happened during those few minutes and how he and his gym’s daily CrossFit training prepared them to act.

“When an instance like this arrives, you, me, most anybody is going to do whatever they can,” Lambert said, “luckily for me and my gym members, we put in the hard work, and when it’s time to put it to use it’s there. It’s ready to go. All we have to do is act and move. We don’t have to rely on many other people. I mean, we grind every day, we put the work in, and when it’s that time you just do it…you know, I mean, it was a dangerous situation.”

Asked whether or not he thinks that he and his gym members are heroes, Lambert is unequivocal.

“I appreciate that,” he said, “but the heroes truly are the first responders, those state highway patrolmen, the EMS, and the firemen that got the guy out, the people that flew him to the hospital. Those are really the heroes. We just did what I believe most any good human being would do, and that’s just try to save another human being.”

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