TULALIP — Tony Moss and David Wampler are both Boeing workers, both part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ District 751. Their paths never crossed until a fiery midnight crash and a fearless rescue.
Moss will be honored Thursday by the local American Red Cross with its Courage in Action Award. His award, for saving Wampler from a burning car, is one of eight being presented at the nonprofit’s 24th annual Heroes Breakfast. The event is scheduled for 7 a.m. Thursday at Tulalip Resort Casino.
The 62-year-old Moss was driving home to Arlington from his job in Renton, where he’s a preflight inspector. It was Aug. 31, 2018. Avoiding I-5 construction at Highway 530 that Friday night, Moss took a route he rarely uses.
On his way to Highway 9, he was on Highway 204 near Frontier Village in Lake Stevens.
In front of him, Moss said Tuesday, “a guy was weaving all over the place” and driving way under the speed limit. “I went around him. I’m doing the speed limit.”
Up ahead about 100 yards, Moss saw another car — a Mazda Miata convertible — slowing down to stop at a red light. It was Wampler, now 26, who was also headed home from Boeing. He had just started working on the 777X program in Everett.
As Wampler slowed down to stop, Moss saw behind him “lights coming up — really fast.” He knew it was the erratic driver he had passed. To keep from being hit, Moss could only move to the left — into an oncoming traffic lane that was empty at that moment.
Then, as he watched in horror, the car raced ahead while Wampler’s Miata was slowing down. “I could hear him accelerating past me, and he hit the car like he was aiming for it,” Moss said.
The Miata “exploded immediately,” Moss said. “Instantly.”
Moss didn’t think twice about whether to help. “The only thought in my mind was whoever’s in there is going to burn,” he told the Red Cross. “And nobody else was running towards it.”
His frantic attempts to open the burning car’s doors didn’t work. Moss could hear the crackling of the fire, and see the silhouette of the man trapped inside.
Inside the car, Wampler told the Red Cross, he was trying to push a door open to escape, but couldn’t do it.
By getting on the Miata’s hood, Moss was able to grab the younger man as the convertible’s roof burned. “He was totally on fire, his hair was on fire,” Moss said.
“I remember reaching in under his arms to grab them,” said Moss, who used his hand to snuff out the fire in Wampler’s hair. He then put Wampler on the ground, and both of them rolled until the flames were out.
Nearby, Moss said, two Lake Stevens police officers were at a 76 gas station. They were quickly on the scene, and soon after that two State Patrol troopers arrived.
“David was pretty badly burned” and had several cracked vertebrae in his neck, Moss said. Wampler was hospitalized, but despite his burned hands Moss was not.
The other driver’s car, Moss said, had run off the road and hit something, and the man was arrested. Moss said that driver had drug paraphernalia in the car. “I think he was wasted,” he said. And — “the worst part about it” — a young child was in that car.
“A Hero Among Us,” said a headline in the February issue of Aero Mechanic, a publication of the Machinists union’s District 751. The article said the Lake Stevens Police Department nominated Moss for the Red Cross honor, but too late for last year’s awards. “What an incredible act of bravery,” the union article said.
Two months after the crash, Wampler posted on Facebook that medical bills from his injuries ran into thousands of dollars. There was good news — a doctor had cleared him to start going without a cervical collar.
Moss has kept up with Wampler “a little bit here and there,” and said the man he rescued works near his own son at Boeing.
To this day, Moss is amazed he was in that place at that time to help.
“I shouldn’t have been there,” Moss said. “I’m feeling very honored to have been nominated for such an award, but I’m most thankful to the good Lord above for putting me there at the right time. I don’t think he had 10 more seconds left in that fire.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.