Freeport, Fla— A deputy’s decision to travel a different route while on duty has changed the lives of three men forever.

Walton County Sheriff’s Deputy David Sanders was not even half way through his shift on November 1st when he steered his patrol car towards Highway 20 on South Jackson Street just before 1:30am.

“Normally, I wouldn’t go that way,” said Deputy Sanders. “It was just fate.”

As he approached the intersection at Highway 20 a quick glance uncovered a crash involving a Kia Sorenta that appeared to have happened just moments before. Sanders called out at the wreck and Sergeant Justin Stephens arrived moments later.

Sanders tried to make contact with the patient later identified as Robert Wells, 46, but the vehicle was already smoking heavily and Wells was unconscious. Before the deputies could get the door open the engine compartment ignited into flames. Both men used fire extinguishers to try to suppress the flames, but they had no effect and the fire began to spread.


Walton County Fire Rescue had not yet arrived on scene. Deputy Sanders and Sergeant Stephens were able to force the driver’s side door open to get to Wells.  The driver was severely injured with what appeared to be several broken bones and a compound fracture. In addition his foot was pinned between the clutch pedal and floor pan. Within just seconds both deputies were able to pull Wells from the car and carry him to the roadway.

During the entire encounter no vehicles passed by the scene. In fact, only one car drove by during the entire incident once fire and EMS arrived on scene.

“If Deputy Sanders had not been driving by and noticed the car, I fully believe the driver would have been unable to get out of car when it set fire,” said Sergeant Stephens. “Deputy Sanders did an outstanding job under extraordinary circumstance.”

Wells was transported to an area hospital where he remains in critical, but guarded condition. Florida Highway Patrol worked the crash.

“This is at the heart of what service is about,” said Sheriff Adkinson. “Putting service before self.”