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Updated 11:00 AM April 19, 2004



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Spotlight: Roadside hero

Brad Stewart will tell you he always is seeking a new adventure, but the U-M-Flint investigator recently found himself involved in a perilous incident that required him to muster all of his bravery and training on split-second notice.
(Photo by Mel Serow, U-M-flint)

He was driving his son to hockey practice when he saw a woman's car careen off a center guardrail on U.S. 23 near Fenton.

"The car engine burst into flames. Fuel was spilling out along the road," Stewart recalls.

The young woman in the crashed car had no way of knowing that coming to her rescue was a man trained as a police officer, firefighter and emergency medical technician. It was training that helped Stewart keep a cool head while aiding Christine Cavanaugh, who leapt to the backseat of the vehicle as she tried to distance herself from the engine flames.

"In fire training, they taught me that cars don't usually blow up when they're burning. But I wanted to make sure that my car with my son in it wasn't in jeopardy," Stewart says. "I could see her frantically trying to get the back door open. I'm thinking, 'She's trapped.'"

Stewart was willing to try almost desperate actions. He ran up to the rear passenger window and tried to kick it in. That failed. He then tried to shatter the glass with his elbow, only to find the glass stronger than his bruised skin and bone.

Seeing his frustration may have inspired Cavanaugh to perform a simple act that would lead to rescue. She pushed down on the power window button. It worked, and Stewart helped her crawl out. As the two ran from the burning car, Stewart turned back to see that the flames had spread to the entire vehicle.

"The car was completely engulfed, including the passenger compartment," Stewart says.

A few weeks after the accident Cavanaugh was asked what she thought about the University officer who rescued her.

"He's my guardian angel. He's my hero," said a smiling Cavanaugh.

Stewart has been an investigator for the U-M-Flint Safety Department for almost four years. He came to the University by way of the Bloomfield Hills Safety Department, and before that the Seattle Police Department, where he was a detective. He originally received his certification at Michigan State University in 1985.

Stewart returned to Michigan so his children could be closer to family. Their mother—his first wife—was killed in a traffic accident in Seattle when a car crossed the centerline. Stewart says that was one of the thoughts that ran through his son's mind as he watched his dad perform the rescue.

Stewart does not believe his actions were all that special. " I did something," he says, "that I think is in all of us, as long as we keep calm and composed."

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