VILLAGERS last night told of their frantic efforts to save a man who apparently set himself on fire in a pub car park.
Police are still trying to establish a motive for the horrific car park inferno which saw the 42-year-old man burn to death next to a pub packed with Valentine's Day diners.
Eye witnesses said they believed the man doused himself in flammable liquid and set light to himself as he sat inside a Volkswagen Golf parked in Stainton, near Middlesbrough, on Thursday.
Moments before the man had been enjoying a drink and reading a book in The Stainton pub.
After finishing his beer he calmly closed the paperback, not forgetting to save his place with a book mark, and walked out.
Moments later there were cries of alarm when flames were spotted coming from the silver Golf.
Fellow customers and those living nearby rushed to his aid but despite the efforts of the local community and emergency services, the victim later died in hospital from severe burns.
The tragedy unfolded around 8.15pm when the pub was packed with couples enjoying a romantic meal and members of the darts team.
Eyewitness Paul Smith, 50, said: “Someone came running into the pub and said that a car was on fire and there was a person in it. The car was in flames and we were looking for fire extinguishers. By the time I got there, he was out of the car and on his knees in the middle of the car park. Somebody had blasted him with a fire extinguisher.
“It was not a pretty sight and I’ve had a very sleepless night. I’m not sure who it was, nobody could have recognised him by then.”
A 50-year-old who scaled a high garden fence and braved the inferno in an effort to save the man has been hailed a hero by his family.
Paul Dewhirst had been enjoying a cigarette in his garden – which overlooks the car park of the pub – when he heard bangs and saw the car in flames. Along with neighbours, he tried to put out the fire with a garden hose before hearing that there had been somebody in the car.
His wife, Nicola, described how he then leapt over the high fence to go to the aid of the stricken man.
Mr Dewhirst, together with off-duty intensive care nurse Siobhan Moloney and her partner, Andrew Stephenson, wrapped the man in a fire blanket and tried to move him away from the burning vehicle. The trio then stayed with the victim until emergency services arrived, with Ms Moloney doing her best to administer first aid.
Mrs Dewhirst said she was proud of the way her husband and the local community had reacted.
She said: “The community came together and put themselves in harm’s way to help a stranger. The flames were popping like fireworks. People were screaming and shouting. The car was near trees and fences. It was a real community effort, neighbours were out with hoses and everyone was trying to help.
“My husband was running on adrenaline. He jumped a fence and put himself in danger. I’m proud of him but angry that he put himself in harm’s way. We called him a hero but he won’t have it. He said he was acting on instinct and would have done it for anybody.”
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said enquiries into the incident were ongoing and asked anyone with information to contact non-emergency number 101.
She added: “Some members of the public showed tremendous bravery in attempting to save this man’s life, sadly to no avail.”