MANATEE COUNTY — Willie Finklea said he will purchase the tool needed to break a car window for his wife, daughter, and himself, after he needed to use his personal firearm to shoot out the window of a car and rescue a couple from a burning vehicle.
“All I had was my keys and my pocket knife so I had no other tools other than my off-duty weapon to make entry into the car,” said Finklea who is a Manatee County Sheriff’s deputy. “I banged on the window several times with my hand.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Neil Cook, 64, was driving with his wife, Claudia, 65, in the 9300 block of Moccasin Wallow Road at about 2:27 p.m. Sunday when he noticed smoke coming from his vehicle. Cook pulled over and realized the vehicle was on fire, but the couple was trapped inside because the electronic windows and locks were not working.
Deputy Finklea, who was off-duty, was riding by on his motorcycle with his wife and stopped to help while his wife called 911. Finklea used his personal firearm and fired a shot through the vehicle’s left rear window. He then got into the car, opened the rear passenger door and got Claudia Cook out. Neil Cook crawled to the front passenger side and was able to open the door and escape.
The Sheriff’s Office reports there were no serious injuries because of Finklea’s quick actions.
The incident was shocking even for the traffic deputy who said he has previously responded to rollover car crashes where people have been extricated and care fires, while on the job.
Finklea said he was not carrying the tool used to break windows that emergency personnel have with them in their service vehicles. He said he was cautious when he aimed his personal firearm low and toward the rear of the car, away from the Cooks, and fired a round to shatter the window.
“I saw that they were in a dire situation and I just went into action. … I just wanted to get them out of that car,” Finklea said.
Neil Cook was using his cane to try and break the window from the inside, and after Finklea shattered the rear car window, Claudia Cook tried to crawl into the back seat to escape. She was struggling and needed some help from Finklea, who went inside the car to help help her get out.
It wasn’t long after the Cooks were out of the car that it became engulfed in flames.
Finklea and his wife had stopped at a gas station to get a drink after church and took a road they don’t normally use to get home. It put them in the perfect place to assist the Cooks.
Finklea doesn’t think it was an accident that he was there to help the couple out.
“Just being used by God to help someone in their most desperate time that’s a gift for me,” said Finklea.
The deputy, who serves in the Sheriff’s Honor Guard, added, “Stay prayed up and be ready for anything.”