The report in the Oxford (MI) Leader lays out the facts in a story on February 22: One person was dead and one faced criminal charges after a Ford Edge crossed the centerline and plowed into a Ford Fiesta. Making matters worse, a 1997 Buick LeSabre crashed into the disabled vehicles, sparking a fire that put the lives of several people in peril. That’s where FCA Chief Designer Ralph Gilles and his Jeep Wrangler came in.
Gilles and his wife, Doris, came upon the Ford Edge and the Ford Fiesta just seconds after the initial crash. “We were the first (ones) on the scene,” he told the Oxford Leader. “It looked like it (had) just happened based on the steam and the fact that the gentleman (driving the Edge) was clearly just getting out of his car.”
While Doris Gilles placed a call to 9-1-1, Gilles did his best to extricate the couple in the Ford Fiesta, but the doors woudln’t open. He got back in the Wrangler to move it and saw the 1997 Buick LeSabre drive straight into the disabled Fiesta, sliding it into the Edge.
The Edge was unoccupied, but a Goodrich, Michigan couple were still trapped in the Fiesta, which was now directly in contact with the Edge, engulfed in flames.
The fire put the Goodrich couple in even greater danger, and Gilles acted quickly. “The only thing I can remember thinking (is) I’ve got a Jeep, it’s got a bumper on it, I think I can do this,” Gilles told the paper. “All I could think about were the two people still inside the other car.”
He engaged four-wheel drive and pushed the the Ford Edge to the shoulder of the road, away from the Fiesta with the couple inside. “I figured the fire department would take a while to get there . . . at that time of day. I had to do something fast,” he said.
Gilles was born in New York in 1970 to parents who had migrated to the United States from Haiti. He was raised in Montreal, Quebec. An avid automotive enthusiast, Gilles drew cars a child. In a 2006 article in Canadian Business, Thomas Watson wrote that Gilles became so proficient at automotive design that at just 14, his aunt sent one of his sketches to then-Chrysler President Lee Iaccoca.
The unsolicited drawings received a response from Chrysler chief designer Neil Walling, who encouraged the young Gilles to apply to Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. After a failed attempt at a local college, Gilles’ family encouraged him to apply to CCC. He was accepted and graduated from CCC in 1992, and joined Chrysler in the same year. Since then, he rose through the ranks, eventually designing the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Magnum in 2002, which helped to turn the tide after the company’s disastrous relationship with Daimler-Benz.
Addison County firefighters arrived and extricated the couple from the Fiesta, but the passenger, 57-year-old Misty Considine, later died of her injuries at Royal Oak Beaumont Hopsital. Her husband was transported to McLaren Oakland Hospital where he was treated and later listed in stable condition.
Addison County fire chief Jerry Morawski praised Gilles’ actions: “That guy did a pretty heroic thing,” the chief said. “I think the guy did a great job . . . (If he hadn’t taken action,) it could have been worse.”
“Looking at the situation, there was no other option,” Gilles said.
“It’s important to stop (whenever there’s an accident). It’s kind of what you’re supposed to do,” he noted. “Every time I see something like that, I always at least inquire if they need help.”