It’s been nearly 20 years since the accident in which Carnegie heroes Terry R. Pease and Robert K. Barth rescued a woman and her 3-year-old daughter from a burning vehicle in Cambria, Wisconsin, but Pease still gets choked up when he thinks about that night.
“Our families remain close,” Pease wrote in an email to the Commission. “It has been almost 19 years but seems like only yesterday, and the accident remains vivid in my mind. Although the memories are haunting, we are proud that we can get together, and share our love for each other, as we watch the children reach milestones in their lives.”
Recently the group gathered to celebrate the 2022 graduation of Cameron Bauer, who was in utero at the time of the accident. Barth said his dad had died two days earlier, and that he and lifelong friend Pease were on their way to a hardware store on Aug. 25, 2003, to pick up supplies to fix some items at the house before the wake when they came across
Melissa M. Bauer, 26, and 3-year-old Lindsey were inside a car that had left the highway and caught fire. Bauer’s legs were trapped in the wreckage and flames had entered the car through the broken-out windshield, setting the visors and ceiling of the car’s interior on fire. Bauer was four weeks pregnant with Cameron at the time.
Pease said he didn’t have much time to think before jumping in the car, but his mind did flash to a burn victim whom he came to know on his childhood paper route, and the memory of her made him fear for Bauer’s life. “We’re not going to let her burn,” he remembers shouting to Barth as they worked on freeing Bauer and Lindsey.
As they approached the car, Pease opened the back door to remove Lindsey from her car seat while Barth attempted to open the driver’s door. Unable to do so, Barth entered the car from the backseat, while Pease entered the front seat area through the passenger door. Together, they freed Bauer’s legs from under the dashboard and maneuvered her into the backseat. Melting plastic was dripping on them as they removed her from the car.
Lindsey and Bauer required hospital treatment for injuries sustained in the accident, but neither of them was burned. Pease sustained minor burns to his head and hands, but he recovered. Barth strained his back muscles during the rescue, and he recovered.
“For as bad as it was, the outcome was as good as it possible could be,” Barth said. “They’re a really nice family with really good kids, and it’s been fun to watch those kids grow up.”
Pease said the group gets together a couple of times a year and that the relationship is important to him.
“I think for other people going through long-term PTSD, like me, it’s important to focus on the positive outcomes instead of thinking of the tragic accident. Staying in touch with the family has helped me deal with it.”
Barth said they often don’t talk about the accident itself, but everything else instead.