Long Island bus driver saves disabled passenger after bus bursts into flames

PLAINVIEW, Long Island (WABC) -- A bus transporting a disabled passenger went up in flames on Long Island Thursday, and the driver is being hailed a hero after rescuing his passenger.

The Nassau Inter County Express (NICE) bus caught fire in Plainview while transporting a passenger in a wheelchair and her aide.

Jean Jeune had been driving the paratransit bus on Monetto Hill Road when he smelled smoke, and flames shot out from the engine as he pulled the bus over.

Jeune said the flames quickly spread, and the wheelchair lift died.

Passenger Cindy March, 54, who uses a wheelchair, said she's alive because Jeune carried her to safety at a nearby elementary school as the bus burst into flames.

"He wheeled me to the front," she said. "He got me out of the wheelchair and he carried me down the stairs of the bus."

March has spinal weakness and narrowing of the spinal canal. She said she screamed, fearing she was about to die.

"I don't think I realized the magnitude of what he did until the principal said, you know, 'he saved your life,'" March said. "I remember him rushing to unhook me, get me out of the wheelchair because I was strapped in...and he bear-hugged me and got me down the stairs."

One eyewitness, Jodi Birns, was driving by and saw the whole thing unfold.

"It was crazy because these flames were just shooting out of the bus," she said. "And then there was somebody, a man, this great hero was carrying this woman trying to get her out."

The aide also was evacuated. The bus and the wheelchair were engulfed by the flames within 20 minutes, destroying March's power wheelchair. She is now trying to figure out how to replace it.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano is expected to honor Jeune Monday for his heroic efforts.

"He's my angel," March said. "I was lucky to have him."

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but fire officials said they'll likely never know why it started.
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