JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Good Samaritans rescued a 1-year-old girl from a burning vehicle Friday after an early morning accident on northbound Interstate 95 just south of Baymeadows Road.
Avalyn Dufek remained hospitalized in critical condition Friday afternoon, according to family members. Her father, 31-year-old Daniel Dufek, was killed in the crash.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Dufek, of Lake City, was traveling northbound on I-95 about 1:15 a.m. Friday when he lost control of his GMC Envoy.
Troopers said Dufek was traveling at such a high rate of speed that he ran off the road, through the median and through several trees before coming to a stop at Western Way, which runs parallel to I-95.
The SUV flipped over and caught fire.
Dufek died in the crash, but Jason Nelson and Steve Hill were able to pull Avalyn from the SUV before it became fully engulfed in flames.
She was taken to UF Health Jacksonville with critical injuries. Her aunt said she suffered several broken bones, smoke inhalation and possible bleeding on the brain. FHP reports that Daniel was wearing his seat belt and Avalyn was in a child seat.
Nelson and Hill are movers from Michigan and were driving through Jacksonville for a job. They spotted the car and saw Dufek inside. At first they didn't realize that there was a baby in the car. Once they did, all that mattered was saving her, they said.
"We were driving down Western Way and we noticed a fire and stuff," Nelson said. "At first we didn't notice there was a baby in there. The flames were basically blocking him and the seat. Then (Hill) went to get ahold of the guy, (and) he goes, 'Oh my God! There's a baby! There's a baby'!'"
Hill struggled to pull Avalyn out, nearly breaking her car seat, but she was safe. Nelson and another man pulled Daniel Dufek out just seconds before the car burst into flames.
"It was literally, just, like a tin can folded up. You couldn't tell what kind of car it was. It had no roof on it," Nelson said.
Nelson is convinced that made it easier to save Avalyn, but it was too late for Daniel Dufek, was already dead.
Nelson said it was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
"One minute earlier or later, it would have been bad," Nelson said.
Family and friends of Daniel Dufek said he was a loving father and that his little girl was his world. They said there was nothing he wouldn't do for her.
Daniel Dufek's family said they want to personally thank the men who saved Avalyn, and Nelson said he was open to meeting them before they return home to Michigan.