By Tamas Mondovics

During an emotionally-charged press conference, the parents of Valrico resident, Anne Marie Fanning, thanked Hillsborough County first responders earlier this month for saving their daughter’s life.

Only a semester away from earning her degree at USF, Fanning, 22, is lucky to be alive as some described it, after a horrific car accident just days before sent the young woman to a hospital in critical condition with internal injuries.

But, the fact that she is now recovering from her injuries, has less to do with luck and more to do with the quick, selfless and skillful acts of several well-trained Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies as well as Hillsborough County Fire Rescue personnel who had responded to the fiery crash.

“We can’t say enough about the heroic efforts of those that responded to the scene and for what they did for Anne Marie,” said Billy Fanning as he thanked those responsible for saving his sister’s life. “We are forever in debt to you guys.”

As it was reported by HCSO, on July 27 at approximately 11:28 p.m., Anne Marie was on her way home, driving her 2003 Mazda 4-door eastbound on the Brandon Parkway Extension, when a 2007 GMC Envoy driven by Donald Ward of Land O’ Lakes was traveling southbound on Providence Rd.

Ward, 39, failed to stop at the stop sign, crossed the westbound lanes, struck the raised median and crash-landed on top of Anne Marie’s Mazda, which then crushed and caught on fire with the young woman trapped inside, deputies said.

Within seconds of the call, HCSO patrol units including Deputies David Webb, Steve Figueredo, Douglas Duvall, Master Deputy Mark Buswell, Lt. Donald Morris and Cpl. Scott Sitton arrived on the scene and began putting out the fire.

“When we got to the scene we saw one car on top of the other in flames,” Figueredo said. “We have used six fire extinguishers to keep the fire from spreading to the cab of the Mazda until County Fire arrived.”

Fire Rescue Driver Engineer, Walt Andrews, Captain Robert Collins, Lt. Casie Pritchard and Fire Medic Richard Garcia put the flames out completely and were able to get the young driver out of the car and on her way to Tampa General, where she is now recovering at the facility’s ICU unit.

“We arrived from another angle, saw the flames but had no idea anyone was still inside the car,” Pritchard said, adding that although the fire was out in just two minutes, it was a close call for its owner.

“She is very fortunate, especially to have the deputies there so quickly and keeping the flames under control.”

While everyone else rushed to save Anne Marie, Ward had no intention of sticking around to help and decided to flee from the scene on foot, only to be caught hiding in a nearby retention pond by Deputy Charles Perdomo and his K9, Deuce, along with some Air Service.

After a struggle with Deuce, Ward surrendered, was treated for minor injuries to his hand and arrested as well as charged with Leaving the Scene of a Crash with Injury.

Deputies said Ward emanated strongly of alcohol, but refused to submit to any field sobriety tests. Further charges are pending toxicology results.

“The more we learn about the accident, we realize that words can’t describe our appreciation for the deputies and the fire-fighters who risk their lives every day to serve and protect us,” Anne Marie’s mother, Yolanda Fanning, said. “Thanks to you, our daughter is doing well and is recovering. If it wasn’t for you, we would have had to gather to a much different occasion. You saved her life and for that we are eternally grateful.”

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