FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – A watch commander and a bystander teamed up to rescue a DUI driver that was pinned under his steering wheel as his SUV caught on fire, according to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies said Ari Waffle, 28, was driving a silver GMC SUV on Old Kings Road North around 1 a.m. Saturday when he crashed into a street sweeper owned by the city of Palm Coast.
When FCSO Watch Commander Jason Neat arrived on scene, he saw a man and woman trying to pull Waffle out of the burning vehicle but he was trapped in the driver’s seat because the steering wheel was pressing down on his legs and waist, records show.
Video shows Neat and the man pulling Waffle to safety just as another deputy arrived with an extinguisher to put out the flames.
As the fire was still being doused, Waffle asked to return to the SUV in order to get his shoes and was told he couldn’t because it was still on fire and he needed to sit on the curb, according the affidavit.
Deputies said Waffle claimed he was too intoxicated to sit on the curb and they noted that he smelled of alcohol, his eyes were watery and bloodshot and he was having trouble keeping his balance.
Records show Waffle denied driving the SUV, even though he was pinned behind the steering wheel.
“I hit? I wasn’t driving,” Waffle said in the body camera video.
“OK, well we have deputies here that pulled you out of the driver’s seat while the vehicle was crashed, while you were pinned under the steering wheel, OK? It’s not logical that you hit a vehicle in the back seat and crawled up to the front seat,” the deputy replied.
Waffle went on to say “there’s no way” he had been drinking before the crash, according to the footage.
Records show Waffle attempted a few field sobriety exercises before telling deputies that he wouldn’t do any more without an attorney present. When he was asked for a breath sample to determine his blood alcohol content he said, “No, just take me to jail,” the report said.
Derek Conklin, 48, said he was behind the wheel of the sweet sweeper and believes it saved his life.
“When I looked back at the car, I couldn’t believe that anyone was walking out of it,” Conklin said. “I saw him approaching and I realized he wasn’t going to get out of the lane but there was just no way to avoid it.”
Conklin said he braced for impact and then jumped into action as he saw the car burst into flames and called 911. He said he and one of the passengers in the car rescued one person and then tried prying Waffle from under the steering wheel.
“I tried to help him with the driver and as I was doing it, I’m noticing the car is still on fire. So, I ran to get a fire extinguisher, emptied the fire extinguisher on the fire and it didn’t do anything,” he said.
Conklin said he worked on getting Waffle out of the car until deputies arrived and took over the rescue and extinguished the flames.
Conklin said he was a little sore and said he’s just thankful that if was him who was hit and no one else.
“Had I not been there at that time then I would say a good chance he could have hit a car and had he hit a car, it wouldn’t have gone as well as him hitting my machine. Thankful for that. Thankful they’re still alive,” Conklin said.
Waffle is facing a charge of DUI with property damage.