Motorist died upon arrival at hospital

Unsigned TE Cam Cleeland has finally spoken publicly about his attempt to save a motorist from a burning car.

Updated: June 1, 2004, 4:12 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Athletes commonly react on instinct. Unsigned Rams tight end Cam Cleeland risked his life on May 23 to help save someone else's.

Cleeland, 28, and his wife, Mindy, were driving along a road they travel every day in Mount Vernon, Wash. He spotted a fire off the road near a stand of trees and soon realized a passenger was in a burning car and needed help.

Cleeland, speaking publicly about the accident for the first time, described his courageous but futile attempt to save the life of Timothy Roth, a 22-year-old motorist who was trapped in the front seat of his burning 1994 Ford Taurus.

"It was an unbelievable situation," Cleeland said. "I was coming back from a softball game, and driving along Little Mountain Road. I was coming around the road and there was a car. And there was a fire."

Cleeland's wife, Mindy, dialed 911 on their cell phone while Cam rushed to the car. The fire was getting worse and Cleeland reacted.

The car was lodged and elevated between two 100-foot fir trees.

"The bottom of the window was eye-level for me," the 6-foot-5 Cleeland said. "He must have flown over the ditch and landed in the trees. I tried to rip the door off, but it was tough because the car was pinned between two trees."

Cars passed by and some older witnesses were around, but only Cleeland had the youth and courage to react. It was going to take time for the fire trucks and police to arrive.

"I was throwing dirt on him and trying to put out the fire," Cleeland said. "I also tried to keep talking to him. He could only nod his head. I was panicking. I got to thinking that this car could blow up."

The air bag in the Taurus opened, and Cleeland had to pull it away from Roth's face because the bag was on fire.

"He was pinned in there," Cleeland said. "I pushed the air bag away from his face and tried to keep talking to him to help him as best I [could]."

Another person soon arrived with a fire extinguisher. He and Cleeland worked to stop the flame. Soon, the fire truck arrived. It took 20 minutes to get Roth out of the car with the Jaws of Life.

Roth died once he arrived at the hospital.

Cleeland and his wife have been shaken up since the incident. There were no injuries to Cleeland's hands, but he did suffer some smoke inhalation. addition, there was an emotional toll.

"I still have nightmares," Cleeland said.

Professionally, Cleeland hopes to either re-sign soon with the Rams or join the Seahawks or Packers. Cleeland was scheduled to visit Green Bay this week but he wanted to wait because of the emotions of the accident.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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