Family meets the off-duty firefighter who saved their lives

Posted at 10:28 PM, Jan 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-18 22:52:55-05

HUDSONVILLE, Mich. -- A mother and her 14-year-old son, rescued from their submerged car by an off-duty firefighter, met that firefighter several hours after their crash on Sunday.

“You’re an everyday hero,” said Yvonne Turpin, the mother who was driving the car that crashed.

The crash happened off westbound I-196 near the Chicago Drive exit around 10 Sunday morning.  The driver claims a car merged into their lane when she lost control, hit a tree and flipped over into a ditch in four feet of water.

Before first responders got there, an off-duty firefighter happened to drive by, and stopped to do what he's trained to do.

14 year-old Michael Turpin and his mother Yvonne Turpin came out only with a few scratches and are grateful things didn't  end up worse. They give all the credit to the man who just happened to stop and help, jumping into action to pull them out of the car when they were trapped.

“You're much dryer and warmer," said Josh Wheeler, a Hudsonville firefighter, when he was introduced to the people he saved by FOX 17.

“Thank you for stopping,” said Yvonne.

The trio is now forever connected by a near-death experience, as Yvonne and her son Michael now call Josh Wheeler their hero.

“We were on our way to church in Hudsonville, just like every Sunday," but Yvonne says a car cut them off. “We went off the road down the embankment and flipped and ended up in the creek,” said Yvonne.

Water started filling up their car, and Yvonne was stuck inside. Her son Michael, a Boy Scout whose survival skills kicked in, was able to unbuckle his seat belt and call 911 from his cell phone. He then moved to the back seat of the car where there was less water.

“I knew that the first thing I had to do is be calm and call 911,” said Michael.

While they waited for help, they had a bigger problem.

“My toes just felt like they were completely frozen, and we were wet and it was all slushy.  It was cold,” said Yvonne.

That’s when Hudsonville firefighter Josh Wheeler, who was on his way to breakfast, saw people on the side of the road pointing down in the ditch. Josh’s instinct had him pull over to help.

“If I see an accident or something, I always stop and make sure everybody is all right,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler went into rescue mode and didn't waste a second. He climbed down the ditch and on top of the car to pull the victims out.

"When I got there I couldn't hear anyone in the car, and I was yelling for them, and I couldn't hear anything,” said Wheeler.

Shortly after, he heard someone banging against something inside the vehicle. He broke windows to get Michael out.

“I didn't know if they had much air or whatever, so I was just like I got to get them out of there,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler got them both out of the car safely before crews arrived. He’ll tell you it was anything but heroic.

“Somebody just needed a hand, so I stopped and gave them a hand,” he said.

He just hopes someone would do the same for him or his kids.

“I got two teenage girls who are starting to drive, so if something ever happens to them, I just hope they stop and do what I did.”

Now the two families are anything but strangers, bonded together forever.

The accident is still under investigation.