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Donnie Black Pulled Engineer From Burning Cab In Last Wednesday's Train Wreck

This article appeared in the "Cherryville Eagle" July 20, 1966


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Donnie Black, life guard at Club Carolina here, saved a life recently, but it didn’t happen at the swimming pool. Black, 16 and a rising 10th grader at Cherryville High School, has been credited with saving the life of a railroad engineer who was trapped and semiconscious in the wrecked and burning cab of his engine.It all began while Black was taking a break from his lifeguard duties. One of his fellow lifeguards informed him that “there has been a train wreck or something.” Black dashed outside in time to see a huge puff of black smoke roll skyward. He and some others around the swimming pool leaped into his car and headed for the accident.

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Donnie Black age 16 Lifeguard

and a life saver on July 13, 1966

“When we got here,” Black says, “another fellow and I saw this man halfway out of the overturned cab. We pulled him out and he told us that there was another man inside.”Others had arrived on the scene by this time, but there apparently was some discussion as what to do about the man trapped inside. Meanwhile the blaze from the fuel oil was growing bigger and hotter.

“I stuck my head inside and talked to the man,” Donnie says. He was trapped under his seat with a big fire extinguisher on him. He told me had enough air. I told him we would get him out as soon as we could get a rope. It was about five minutes before someone brought a rope. Then the men standing around were talking about who was going in. I just couldn’t stand around and see this man die in there.”

So, young Black took one end of the rope and went down inside the oil-filled cab. He pulled the fire extinguisher and pieces of metal off the trapped man so he could get the rope around his waist. Despite the torturous heat from the flame just outside and the hot oil in which he was moving barefooted, Black worked the engineer loose and assisted in getting him out of the cab.

“He had a broken arm and a broken leg so I had to keep him from being hurt more, he said. The engineer, Garland Stutts of Sanford, was brought out and rushed to a hospital where his condition today is described as serious. Young Donnie Black, his feet blistered by the intense heat, is back at work today, perched on his lifeguard stand at Club Carolina. He is not particularly interested in being a hero. “It was something I had to do,” Donnie said “I couldn’t let him just die there.”

The rescue occurred following the spectacular head-on collision of two Seaboard freight trains one-half mile east of Cherryville on last Wednesday July 13, 1966. One man died in the wreck. Two others, besides Stutts, were injured. Two escaped uninjured. A newly installed switch that, somehow, failed to operate properly was reportedly the cause of the accident.

On the scene witnesses to the heroic rescue were high in their praise of Black’s efforts. “If ever anyone deserved a hero’s medal this boy does,” one man commented. “He risked the heat, flames and possible explosion to bring this injured man to safety. It was a wonderful thing.”

“We begged him not to go in, “ another man said, “But he said, “the heck with it, I’ve got to try!” And try he did.

So, today, like it or not, Donnie Black is a hero. He must think some about what happened as he sits on his lifeguard perch . . . and from time to time, comes down to dangle his feet in the cool waters of the pool.

Donnie Black is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Carroll Black of Route 1 Crouse, NC. His father is a line-haul driver that runs to Florida for Carolina Freight Carriers Corporation.