Long Branch – Saturday afternoon a classic car replica burst into flames and a local Good Samaritan was arrested at the scene.
Gary Tvrdik, owner of the North Beach Grill on Atlantic Avenue, stated that it was a normal, busy Saturday afternoon at his establishment when someone ran into his restaurant saying a car was on fire outside.
“I ran out the front door and saw a car on fire,” said Tvrdik. “I ran back inside and took the fire extinguisher from our kitchen and ran back out to help the owner of the car.”
Tvrdik stated that the owner was trying to hold open the hood while he used the extinguisher, but the heat and flames were getting out of control.
“I saw people on their cell phones calling what I thought was 911,” said Tvrdik. “However it took the fire department ten minutes to respond. And directly across the street is a firehouse with no fireman.”
City officials dispute that claim, saying it took less than two minutes to respond.
Located at the intersection of Atlantic and Ocean avenues is the Oliver Byron Engine Co. No. 5, a volunteer fire company. Witnesses at the scene stated that people were banging on the doors hoping that firemen were inside.
“I was driving in Long Branch and noticed a large cloud of black smoke,” said Ted Friedli, owner of Excel Travel. “As I got closer to Atlantic Avenue, the smoke became thicker,”
Friedli’s business is located across the street from the North Beach Grill, and the burning car was next to his building. “When I pulled up the car was fully engulfed in flames, which seemed to be one or two feet high.”
Tvrdik stated that the owner of the car had burns on his hands, and he went back into his restaurant to get ice. “When I came out and gave him the ice, fire and police had arrived. I was a little upset on how long it took them to respond.”
What followed next is a little baffling. Tvrdik stated that he was talking with Friedli when a police officer came up to him and told him to get back into the restaurant. “I told him that I was on my property and that he couldn’t tell me what to do. The cop then stated one more word from me and he would lock me up,” said Tvrdik.
Well, Tvrdik had one or two more choice words for that police officer, who did arrest him.
“I was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car. It was over 90 degrees outside, and with the fire it seemed like 120 degrees in that police car. They charged me with obstruction,” said Tvrdik.
“It was embarrassing to be arrested in front of my customers,” he said. “All I did was try and help. In fact I even called Long Branch Police Department directly and reported the fire. I used my extinguisher, got ice and called for help and I get arrested.”
“It’s a shame what happened to Gary,” said Friedli. “One minute I was talking with him and the next he was arrested and placed in a police car.
“Gary is such a nice guy,” he continued. “He takes great pride in all the businesses on Atlantic Avenue. He buys the flowers for all the planters; he does all the holiday decorating for all of us. When he saw the damage to my building, he might have taken it personally.”
Excel Travel suffered extensive fire damage to the building’s exterior The siding melted as a result of the flames. Friedli said that his business did not suffer any interior damage as a result of the fire.
All 911 calls are answered at the Monmouth County Radio Room in Freehold, which is under the supervision of the Monmouth County Sheriff.
Kevin Hayes, senior fire official for the City of Long Branch, stated that the emergency radio room in Freehold received a 911 call at 2:23.05 in the afternoon from a woman identified as Cathy from the North Beach Grill. “According to the report supplied by Monmouth County, the caller stated that a car was on fire in front of 49 Atlantic Avenue,” said Hayes.
That official record also shows that the county notified Long Branch fire and police departments nine seconds later. Hayes stated that fire units were on the road and responding at 2:24.11, 66 seconds after being notified by Monmouth County.
“Fire units were on the scene at 14:26.37 (2:26.37). That is less than two and a half minutes to respond. All units cleared the fire at 14:58 hours,” said Hayes.
“To be honest I thought it was a lot longer before a fire truck arrived,” said Friedli. “It seemed like an eternity, but I guess the stress and excitement of the situation made it seem longer. I’m happy to hear that the response was quicker than I thought. I just hope the charges against Gary are dismissed; he only wanted to help everyone.”
Long Branch Public Safety Director Alfonse Muolo said that he could not comment on the arrest, but stated that the entire incident is under review.