Christoph “CJ” Banta, 27, of Hillsboro died Wednesday night (July 29), several hours after a good Samaritan pulled him from a burning truck that had crashed at Hwy. 30 and Gravois Road in Byrnes Mill, said Chief Frank T. Selvaggio of the Byrnes Mill Police Department.
At about noon, Banta was driving a Ford super-duty truck and reportedly ran into the back of an AT&T utility truck that was stopped at the intersection, Selvaggio said.
Christopher Anderson, 48, of High Ridge was driving the AT&T truck. He had minor injuries but was not transported to the hospital, Selvaggio added.
Elijah Huddleston, 33, of Byrnes Mill said he was behind Banta’s truck when the accident happened.
“I was right behind him and I got out to check on him,” Huddleston said.
He said he tried to open the driver’s door, but it was stuck, so he broke the passenger window with a jack he found in the back of the truck.
“I crawled in there and said, ‘We gotta get you out; the truck’s on fire,’” Huddleston said. “I said you are going to have to grit your teeth because it’s going to hurt.”
Huddleston said he could tell Banta’s legs were broken.
It took three tries to pull Banta out, Huddleston said.
He said he didn’t think before crawling into the burning vehicle.
“I guess that was kind of crazy; I wasn’t thinking about it. I just had to get him out,” Huddleston said. “I just couldn't sit there and watch him burn alive.
“He looked good when we were laying on the side of the road talking.”
The Big River Ambulance District transported Banta to Mercy Hospital South in south St. Louis County, where he later died due to his injuries, Selvaggio said.
He said the High Ridge Fire Protection District, North Jefferson County Ambulance and Jefferson County Sheriff's Office also responded to the scene of the accident.
Selvaggio said Banta’s fiancee and some family members stopped by the Byrnes Mill Police Station on Thursday (July 29) to thank Huddleston, who met them there.
“It was pretty powerful,” Selvaggio said.
He said there was a lot of hugging and crying.
Huddleston said the meeting “was a little emotional.”
He said the family thanked him because they were able to say goodbye to Banta before he died at the hospital.
Huddleston said Banta was supposed to be married in two weeks.