SUMTER, S.C. — Body cam footage is going viral after a North Carolina police officer pulled an unconscious truck driver out of his burning vehicle, saving his life. This happened across the border in Salisbury, but the lieutenant is a Sumter native.
"At that time I knew, 'Okay, I'm going to die here with him or…I gotta get him out of here," Salisbury Police Lt. Corey Brooks said. "And that's when the adrenaline started flowing and I used all my strength that I had at the time to get him out of the truck."
Brooks reflects on the Aug. 8 incident, remembering what it was like driving behind the truck on the interstate when it hit the concrete median.
"I just thank God that I was in the right place at the right time," Brooks said. "I grew up at Joshua Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina. So my grandmother and my mom made sure I was in church. So that's a big part of me also. You always gotta have faith."
Brooks grew up in Sumter, where he worked for Pepsi Cola while attending the former Hillcrest High School. He drove school buses before moving to North Carolina in 1994. Brooks got his commercial driver's license during that time as he became familiar with large vehicles, so when he watched the truck hit the median at more than 50 miles per hour, Brooks said he had to act quickly.
"By the time I got to the door, the passenger side, I opened the door and I looked inside, and I saw the driver slumped over, and I was yelling, 'Sir, you need to get out of the truck; you need to get out the truck!' And he wasn't responding," Brooks said. "When I was inside the truck, I could feel the heat, I could smell that fuel burning…just smelling the smoke, I knew there was minutes or seconds."
Thankfully, Brooks used the little time he had and got the driver to the other side of the road, along with help from a female truck driver who stopped to help.
When the three were safe on the opposite side of the interstate, "on the video, you'll hear a pop, a bang," Brooks said about the video of the truck engulfed in flames.
"But the sound doesn't do it any justice because it was really loud. I really thought that parts of the engine were going to start flying in the air," Brooks continues.
Thankfully, Brooks, the driver and the woman who stopped to help were all okay.
"[The driver] was very, very appreciative that he was able to see his kids again," Brooks said. "I have peace that he's alive."
For Brooks, it's a decision he wouldn't take back.
"If it happened again, I would do it over and over and over again. And I'm just blessed that I was in the right place at the right time," Brooks said. "There's no way that I could just stay there and watch that truck burn, and I know there's a human being inside there. Mentally and psychologically, I would have been destroyed. So I had no choice but to open the door, and I was prepared in my mind, I will say, in my mind, I was saying, 'Okay, today might be the day."
As for the reaction to the body cam footage, Brooks says it was a response he wasn't ready for.
"I am very appreciative of the love and trying to embrace it. I'm not used to it, but I'm embracing it because I have close people by my side that are helping me to embrace it," Brooks said about the positive comments on the now-viral video. "It is wonderful to see how much love is actually out there."
Lt. Brooks started at the Salisbury Police Department in 2001 as a patrol officer but now works as a lieutenant of the criminal investigations unit.
"I've been put in those types of stressful situations before; however, this one out of my 25 years has been the most stressful," Brooks said.