A former Gillingham man who now lives in the United States has described the dramatic moments when he saved a man’s life by pulling him from a burning car. Journalist Austin Raishbrook, 41, was out late one night filming for a TV reality show when he saw an SUV stalled in the fast lane of a freeway in Los Angeles. Knowing that the driver was in danger from speeding vehicles, Austin pulled over and was about to offer assistance when the stalled vehicle was rear-ended by a car travelling at about 70mph.
‘The stalled spun around and burst into flames and it was at that point that I really turned from journalist into potential rescuer – I was not going to sit back and make sure I framed the shot,’ Austin told Gillingham News. The journalist grabbed his fire extinguisher, torch and high-visibility jacket and ran across the freeway to help. ‘There was no hesitation on my part. I knew this person didn’t even have a minute to get out,’ said Austin, who grew up and went to school in Gillingham and whose parents still live in the area. When he got to the vehicle Austin smashed open the front passenger window with the extinguisher and looked inside.
‘There was just fire and smoke coming out of the window and I could see the driver slumped over the steering wheel unconscious,’ he said. He then ran around the driver’s side which was close to the concrete road divider in the centre of the freeway and with the help of the cameraman who had been filming him he managed to wrench open the door. ‘At that point the driver probably had 10 seconds left before he would have died from smoke inhalation. I leaned in, held my breath and tried to feel my way around and undo his seatbelt but it was jammed,’ Austin said.
‘I could feel the heat and my hair was starting to singe. I got back out of the car, took another deep breath and went back in again – at this point I had flames over the top of my head and I thought I would have to yank him out. So I pulled the shoulder belt down and managed to wrench him out from underneath his lap belt.’
Austin dragged the man out of the car and ten feet away from the burning vehicle, then the cameraman helped him pull the driver to a safer place. ‘I had to get away from the car because the tyres were exploding and it was very dangerous,’ said Austin. He waited with the man, who was unconscious throughout the incident, checking his airways were clear and that he had a pulse, before the emergency services arrived four to five minutes later.
The journalist is certain that the man, who was in his 40s, would have died if he had not been pulled from the car. ‘He literally had seconds – in under ten seconds he’d have been dead,’ said Austin.
Last month Austin and the cameraman Clint Lealos received a Certificate of Community Service from the California Highway Patrol for ‘saving the life of a gentleman, who was trapped in a burning car’. Yet Austin insists he is not a hero. ‘I’d like to think other people would have done the same thing in the same situation. I was in the right place at the right time to help out.’
He says he would have liked to have met up again with the driver whose life he stayed ‘to see that he’s ok – he didn’t look great the last time I saw him’ – but having left hospital the man has vanished. ‘He obviously doesn’t want to be found,’ said Austin.
Though he sought to play down his heroism, Austin Raishbrook is no stranger to drama and excitement. Since moving to Los Angeles as a young man Austin, joined by his identical twin brother Howard and later his younger brother Marc, 35, has worked as a stringer for local TV stations. This has meant monitoring emergency services frequencies and being quick to arrive at the scenes of accidents and crimes, to film the scene and then sell the footage to the media.
Indeed, the brothers and their company RMG News (standing for Raishbrook Media Group) were technical consultants on the major 2014 film Nightcrawler, which was recently shown on British TV. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a stringer on the streets of LA selling footage to TV stations but who becomes obsessed with success. ‘We took Jake Gyllenhaal out and also Bill Paxton and British actor Riz Ahmed,’ said Austin, referring to the actor who played Gyllenhaal’s sidekick. ‘We helped show them the ropes and a lot of the one-liners in the movie came right out of my mouth!’ said Austin.
He said he and brother Marc were also in a couple of scenes ‘though if you blink you miss it’. However, he said their motivation as stringers was very different from that of the movie character. ‘The Jake Gyllenhaal character was very dark, his motive was all about money. For us it’s all about the adrenaline and getting that shot, not about money,’ said Austin who now has a ‘day job’ as global operation’s director for a major LA-based news agency.
Austin says he has ‘always been a stringer and always will be’. But he now also has a young family: he is married to Kerry, whom he met in Gillingham, and they have two children, Jack, who is four and one-year-old Harry. ‘It’s always been about the thrill of the chase and I will always do this but I have to respect the fact that I have other responsibilities.’
From Gillingham to LA
Austin Raishbrook moved to Gillingham from Clapham in London with his father Alan, a driving instructor, and mother Susan when he and twin brother Howard were just seven weeks old. He grew up in Maple Way, Wyke, and attended Gillingham Primary School and then Gillingham School and says he has ‘very fond memories’ of Gillingham. His fascination with the media, journalism and the emergency services started early. He and Howard were fans of the US TV show Cops and dad Alan says: ‘When they were younger they used to shoot off on their bikes whenever they heard sirens.’ Austin recalls: ‘That was when I was 7 or 8 and I could already tell the difference between fire truck, ambulance and police car sirens.’ As he got older the fascination remained. ‘I remember working at Waitrose in Gillingham, I’d hear all the sirens and I’d be over the wall at the back looking at what was going on,’ says Austin, who said he and Howard chose to go and live in the US in their late teens so they could pursue their fascination for journalism and the emergency services. ‘I had a fantastic childhood growing up in Gillingham – I think when you get a little bit older you kind of look for a little bit more excitement, well, at least I certainly did. We thought “let’s go to Los Angeles where the crime rate is terrible”.’ Austin and wife Kerry regularly return on visits to the Gillingham area, but even then he cannot resist a story. ‘The last time I was here I was staying with my mother at East Knoyle and I shot a grass fire at Hindon, I just tweeted it A lot of the local LA stations follow my Twitter and they broadcast it over here in LA!’ He adds: ‘I love England but career-wise I think I’ve got a few years out here.’