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Crash Witnesses Saved Two Lives in Alaska

Aug. 05--Alaska State Troopers credit witnesses with saving the lives of two people trapped in a van after a three-vehicle crash Thursday afternoon on the Seward Highway.

The collision near Indian killed 39-year-old Jason Small of Girdwood. Small was driving a pickup involved in the crash, troopers say. The accident temporarily closed the busy highway at Mile 104.

As many as 16 people were were hurt, with one driver flown by helicopter to Anchorage with life-threatening injuries, according to a trooper report.

The crash began at 1:42 p.m. when a Ford passenger van carrying eight people slammed into the Ford F-150 pickup driven by Small, troopers said.

The van, driven by 72-year-old Lewis Hayes of Anchorage, was traveling north on the highway when it crossed the center line, troopers said. It struck the pickup nearly head-on, according to a description of the crash released today by troopers.

After colliding with the pickup, the van continued in the southbound lane and struck a second vehicle, a Chevrolet Suburban carrying eight people.

The driver of the Suburban -- Dorota Balaban, 43, of Anchorage -- and her passengers all escaped the SUV. But the Suburban had come to rest against the van, in which two people were trapped.

The Suburban began to burn, troopers said.

Bystanders found a chain and used a pickup to haul the burning Suburban away from the van, troopers said. Troopers said the rescue saved lives.

Firefighters arrived from Anchorage and Girdwood, extinguishing flames in the Suburban and freeing passengers from the van, according to troopers.

Small's Ford pickup had struck a rock wall adjacent to the highway following the collision. Small was trapped and died at the scene of the crash, troopers said.

Hayes, the driver of the van, was flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center with life-threatening injuries, troopers said. The passengers in the van suffered serious injuries, troopers said.

The occupants of the Suburban were treated at the scene of the crash for minor injuries.

The crash remains under investigation.