TWO cousins who rescued an injured driver from his wrecked car moments before it exploded have been honoured for their bravery.
Zac Wilson and Dimitri Martari have received a police commendation after saving Nodari Babeav’s life.
The pair were driving back from a night out on New Year’s Day when they noticed a black Mercedes in a ditch in Bath Road, Knowl Hill.
They dialled 999 but with the emergency services still on their way and smoke filling the vehicle, they dragged 34-year-old Mr Babeav to safety.
Mr Wilson, 36, of Shepherds Close, Hurley, was returning home after working as a DJ at a club in Wokingham.
He said: “As we were driving back through Knowl Hill I had my window open a little and I heard this really loud engine.
“It sounded as if someone was mowing their lawn but it was some time before 4am. I caught a glint in my eye and realised it was a car in a ditch.
“Every window was smashed, none of the doors would open and we couldn’t find a key. The engine was revving as high as it could go and we couldn’t find a battery to disconnect.
“The guy was conscious but wedged between the front two seats and couldn’t get out. There was blood all down his face and he was looking up as if to say ‘help’.
“There were a few trees around so we pulled them down to get closer to the car, which all this time was getting hotter and hotter.”
Mr Wilson, a former pupil of Piggott School in Wargrave, called the emergency services and was told help was on its way and not to move Mr Babeav.
He said the wait felt like an “eternity” and the cousins watched as the exhaust under the car set light a nearby garden fence.
“We could start to see flames and were getting worried because we’d been told not to touch him,” said Mr Wilson.
“That’s when instinct kicked in. I just thought, ‘this guy’s got to get out of the car because he’s going to catch fire soon’.
“While I was back on the phone to the emergency services saying the car was going to explode, Dimitri pulled the guy’s legs round so he was lying on the back seat. He was complaining about his arm.
“They were still adamant that I shouldn’t touch him so I told Dimitri to get out but then the car started filling with smoke and catching light.
“It was at that point we thought ‘sod it, we need to get him out urgently’.
“I just remember him saying, ‘my arm, my arm’. Dimitri pulled him halfway out of the window and he literally slumped out of the car and on to the guy.”
The pair struggled to drag Mr Babeav out of the vehicle but were helped by a man who said he was an off-duty police officer but he has never been identified.
All four men managed to get away from the car which burst into flames within 30 seconds. Firefighters arrived minutes later.
Mr Babeav was taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading suffering a broken arm and serious injuries to his neck and stomach.
He was later found guilty of driving without due care and attention and without insurance or a licence.
Police never discovered why he had crashed and Mr Babeav has no memory of what happened.
Mr Wilson, who visited the victim two months after the accident, said a number of cars went past while they were at scene but that he couldn’t have done the same. “There was no way I could watch a man burn in a car,” he said. “We had to get him out.
“At the time I didn’t really think about it — we just felt like we had to do it. It wasn’t until I posted it on Facebook that I realised. I’ve never seen so many comments and ‘likes’.
“The police officers and firemen said if we hadn’t done what we did, he would have died.
“All I hope is that if I was in a position like that, someone would stop and help me like we did for him.”
Mr Wilson and his cousin attended a formal ceremony in Sulhamstead to receive their commendations from Supt Chris Shead, head of a joint traffic unit for Thames Valley and Hampshire police.They were accompanied by their mothers and Mr Wilson said: “Words can’t explain what Dimitri’s mother was like — she was absolutely over the moon and thanking everyone.
“The chief superintendent said he was going to refer us to higher awards on a national level but we haven’t heard anything yet.
“We were one of the last awards so we listened to these stories about an officer who had sussed out a speeding ticket scam and another who had helped someone with Alzheimer’s.
“Ours came up and it was the best story of the night. Everyone wanted to shake our hands and ask what happened. Even some of the high-ranked officers were really interested. It was well and truly one of the proudest moments of my life.”
Mr Wilson has two children, Joshua, six, and Kian, six months, with his girlfriend Laura Painter, 28.
Miss Painter was heavily pregnant with Kian at the time of the rescue and was waiting up for her boyfriend to come home.
She said: “I saw Dimitri walk in covered in mud and I thought, ‘idiots, fancy getting involved’.
“Anything could have happened to Zac and he could have left his kids behind.
“When I look back at it, though, I’m proud and glad they did it.” Mr Martari, 26, a landscape gardener from Knowl Hill, said: “I felt really chuffed to receive the award and I think I also had the proudest mum that day. It was a very happy day for us.
“It’s quite nice to have something like that framed to show my grandchildren and to be recognised by the police.
“I remember on the night there was one point when Zac was shouting for me to get out of the car.
“At one moment I thought I had to go otherwise I was going to die but looking at the bloke in front of me covered in blood, I couldn’t leave him there.
“After we had got him out, I remember just collapsing because I was knackered.”