A man revving his sport utility vehicle’s engine over and over in an effort to get out of a snowbank in New Jersey was killed when the vehicle caught fire, police said.
Little Ferry police say a public works employee called shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday to report a car had jumped a parking divider and gone down a slight embankment near Losen Slote Creek Park, becoming stuck in the snow.
Captain Ronald Klein said arriving officers found the man repeatedly revving the engine and rocking the small Mazda SUV back and forth to try to get out of the snow. Officers Joseph Montemurro and Joseph Convery said they tried to make contact with the driver, asking him multiple questions. They said he ignored them, never saying a word as he continued trying to get his car out.
The officers said they told the 62-year-old man to stop accelerating, and told him they were going back to their vehicle to call for a tow truck. Soon after, they heard a popping noise and spotted flames coming from under the vehicle.
Klein and the officers said the flames quickly spread and they tried to get into the car, but the doors were locked. Officer Montemurro broke a rear passenger window, but the vehicle became engulfed in flames and smoke, preventing them from reaching the man. The cop said he wasn't even able to see the driver through the flames and smoke.
The name of the man isn’t being released, but his family has been notified. Police are still awaiting dental records before officially identifying the victim. A grieving friend who had known the victim since they were just 5 years old said he had to see the scene for himself.
"I'm gonna miss him. I'm gonna miss him every day of my life," said the friend, who did not wish to be identified. "I just found his cellphone here ... I wish I could call him but I can't. I took a part of his vehicle just to keep as a memory."
He said he couldn't understand how the incident could have happened, how the husband and father of three could be killed just trying to dislodge his SUV from the snow. He also couldn't explain why the man would have ignored the police trying to help him.
"He could have just been embarrassed that he did something stupid and he just wanted to get out of there without a scene. And maybe he just overreacted," the man said.
Police said it didn't initially appear that the gas tank had been punctured by the parking divider. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined; police and the Bergen County prosecutor’s office are investigating.