Bayfield residents honored for heroics

Thursday, March 13, 2014 10:26 PM

Two Bayfield residents have received awards from the Colorado State Patrol for saving the life of an Ignacio woman.

Almost a year later, Scott Key said he's still uncomfortable talking about the incident. One woman survived the car wreck and subsequent fire, but her sister died in his arms.

Key said he and Danica Tarkington were coming home on May 19 after she had finished catering a banquet for her employer in Durango. They were behind the car driven by Rachel Alires of Ignacio when she drove into a traffic-signal pole on U.S. Highway 160 at Three Springs Boulevard.

Key said they saw flames coming from the car and immediately stopped.

"It was surreal for a second," he said. "I was thinking anybody in the car was already out."

But he approached the car and realized two women were inside and unconscious. He opened the driver's side door and unbuckled the seat belt, then pulled Alires out of the car and pulled her away from the wreckage.

He said he then went back and tried to open the passenger door, but it was mangled from the wreck and the handle came off in his hand.

So he want back around to the driver's door and started trying to retrieve her, although flames were now coming out of the car's dash.

"I thought, 'I have no choice, I gotta get this girl outta here.' So I undid her belt, and untangled her feet from the debris."

In the meantime, Tarkington was calling 911 on a cell phone.

He began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Leah Tsosie, while Alires was regaining consciousness.

After he pulled Tsosie out of the car, the entire car burst into flames, he remembered.

Key was awarded the Certificate of Honor, the highest merit the State Patrol can bestow upon a private citizen.

Tarkington was awarded the Certificate of Commendation for her efforts in providing assistance to the emergency-response crew.

Key said Tsosie died in his arms. She was later was pronounced dead at Mercy Regional Medical Center.

After a police investigation, Alires, 30, was charged with vehicular homicide-DUI, driving under the influence and reckless driving.

She pleaded guilty to the lesser felony charge of vehicular homicide-reckless driving and driving under the influence, according to court documents. She was sentenced Jan. 24 to two years in prison.

While Key received the accolades, he said Tarkington was the hero for remaining calm during the event, relaying instructions to him, then helping Alires after she regained consciousness.

"I'm so grateful Danica was there with me," he said. "She was absolutely amazing."

One thing Key found bizarre about the entire incident was that he and Tarkington were the only people to stop and help the women. Others drove by, while a few stopped and gawked.

As Bayfield's director of parks and recreation, Key said he has CPR and first aid training, but it's more to handle a kid's bloody nose than to deal with life-threatening emergencies.

He said he's still surprised he wasn't burned, although he did suffer some smoke inhalation. His shirt melted onto his back, he said. He recommends that people get first aid training.

"It's one of those things, it's a good thing, and you never know when or why you might have to use it."

Herald staff writer Vanessa Guthrie contributed to this story.