Diners Rush to Help after Van Crash; A Deputy and Prisoners Were Trapped Inside after the Accident Friday

Article excerpt


Recently back from an Army National Guard deployment in Kuwait, Giovanni Ciuro already qualifies as an American hero.

On Friday, the Jacksonville helicopter mechanic again showed courage along with other downtown restaurant diners who scooped a sheriff's deputy from a van full of prisoners that crashed and flipped.

After the Columbia County deputy's rescue, Jacksonville firefighters freed four trapped prisoners who were still handcuffed and shackled inside the wreckage.

It happened about 10:30 a.m. at West Adams and Broad streets after police said the deputy went through a red light and two cars hit the corrections van.

Six people were hurt, but authorities said none had life-threatening injuries. Jacksonville police said the deputy had just picked up prisoners at the Duval County jail and was heading back to Columbia when the crash happened.

After 18 years in the military, Ciuro said when he looked out the window of Worman's Bakery and Deli and saw the accident happening, that "all that training and all that yelling people have done at me, it clicked."

The 35-year-old man was eating breakfast with his wife and their 1-year-old daughter when he saw the corrections van go slightly airborne before it overturned and started sliding.

He and fellow restaurant diners Curtis Timberlake and Christine Diaz ran outside to help with at least one other person who left shortly after rescuers arrived.

"People were in trouble. They're afraid and you're afraid for them," said Timberlake, 45, when asked if he thought about prisoners trying to escape. "It's instinct and doing the right thing for the right reason."

Diaz, a petite 46-year-old, said she helped boost Timberlake and Ciuro on top of the van.

As the deputy pleaded for help, Timberlake smashed a side window with a fire extinguisher Ciuro said he found outside Worman's.

Ciuro said the deputy's gun kept getting stuck as they tried to lift him out of the window. So the veteran said he reached down and pushed on the deputy's weapon holster to wriggle him free.

The whole time, Diaz said they could hear cries for help from the prisoners.

"I saw one guy's face pressed up against the door. It looked like they were all chained up together," she said. …


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