After a rear-end collision turned the vehicle in which he was a passenger into an inferno of flames, Fort Lauderdale firefighter Jacob Snowhite fought to rescue the driver trapped inside, according to a witness.
“He was trying to run to the car, saying, ‘That’s my friend. I’ve got to get him out,'” said Dan Pridemore, who was on his way home when he spotted what he called “a huge fireball” at 2:30 a.m. Saturday near the intersection of State Road 7 and Wiles Road.
Killed in the fiery crash was Fort Lauderdale Detective Christopher Sheehan, 30. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Coral Springs police.
“It was a bad situation,” said Pridemore, 34, who took a video of the flames and the efforts of a man trying to douse them with a fire extinguisher.
“It took three or four police to hold [the man] back,” said Pridemore. “He did all he could do.”
Snowhite, 41, a veteran paramedic, was taken to Northwest Medical Center in Margate with injuries described as not life threatening. His condition Monday was not known.
The death of Sheehan, a seven-year veteran of the police department, has shaken the South Florida community of law officers and firefighters in which his family is well-known.
James Sheehan, Christopher’s father, and his uncle, Dennis Sheehan, are both retired Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue Division Chiefs.
Sheehan, who was engaged to be married in October, joined the Fort Lauderdale police in 2009, according to the department.
“I knew Chris Sheehan, an outstanding police officer, and I know his family from the fire department,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. “This is a very tragic situation.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Sheehan family, and with the family of Jacob Snowhite,” said Seiler. “Thankfully, he is going to survive.”
Sheehan, at the wheel of a 1995 Jeep Wrangler and heading north on State Road 7, had just passed the intersection with Wiles Road when his vehicle was rear-ended by a pink-colored 2010 Dodge Challenger driven by Joselyn Lopez, 29, of Margate, according to Coral Springs police.
Investigators believe the Dodge “was traveling at a high rate of speed,” said Capt. Brad McKeone.
Snowhite, a passenger in the Jeep, was either thrown from the vehicle or managed to stumble out, police said. In interviews with investigators at the scene and at the hospital on Sunday, Snowhite “did not recall” how he got out of the Jeep, McKeone said.
Lopez was not injured in the crash, police said.
Pridemore said he was traveling east on Wiles Road when he saw smoke and flames off to the left. He began filming as he drove into the intersection and turned north onto State Road 7, he said.
After pulling to the side of State Road 7, Pridemore said he put down the camera and got out of his car. “I ran over to the [burning] car, but could not get within five feet of it,” he said.
After the collision, the Dodge crossed the median and came to a stop “some distance away” in the southbound lanes of State Road 7, according to police.
The front of the Dodge was smashed, and flames were coming from the area of the hood, Pridemore said.
Some of the debris scattered on the roadway was also burning, Pridemore said.
Police are investigating reports that the car driven by Lopez may have been involved in an earlier collision in a neighboring jurisdiction, according to McKeone.
Sheehan joined the Fort Lauderdale Police Department in 2009. During his tenure, he was assigned to the Operations Bureau as a Patrol Officer and as a Field Training Officer.
His most recent assignment was with the Rapid Offender Control Unit of the Investigations Bureau, according to the department. He served on the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) for four years, and recently was selected to be part of the SWAT Waterborne Entry Team.
“We are all deeply saddened by the sudden passing of our brother and friend, Detective Christopher Sheehan,” Police Chief Frank Adderley said in a statement. “Chris faithfully and unselfishly served the residents and business in the City of Fort Lauderdale for the last 7 years, touching everyone he came into contact with including his fellow employees.”
Funeral services for Sheehan are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 Southwest 5th Ave. The public is invited.
Coral Springs Police are asking witnesses or anyone with information about the crash to call Officer Derek Fernandes of the traffic unit at 954-346-1754.