Unflinching: Dramatic rescue at Moorman's

Peter Leddington seems uncomfortable with the suggestion that he's a hero. But when you leap into a burning car and rescue the driver moments before the car explodes, people can't help thinking the H-word.

Leddington left work early November 25 to go to a bicycle store with his son, who was home for the Thanksgiving weekend.

On their way back home around 4:30pm, they were about to head over the Millington Bridge at the Moorman's River, a point Leddington describes as a "Z turn" with a sharp right, then a sharp left.

A car coming from the opposite direction on Millington Road stopped, and a girl jumped out and screamed for help. "I saw smoke and flames," recounts Leddington. "My son said a car was in the ditch."

Flames were coming from under the car– and the driver was unconscious. "I jumped down the embankment and jerked him out," he recalls. "I didn't worry about hurting him because he didn't have long to live."

He couldn't get the victim, 18-year-old Eric Bilotta, back up the steep embankment quickly, so he and his son, Nicol, dragged the young man along the riverbank. "In the recesses of my mind, I knew the car was going to blow up," says Leddington.

He estimates that within 30 seconds to a minute after they got Bilotta out, the car "completely went up in flames." Leddington describes the explosion as different from the huge fireballs on TV, but a big explosion nonetheless, with flames shooting 30 to 40 feet high and a lot of bangs as the tires and windows popped. Even from 50 feet away, he worried the exploding glass would hit them.

Nicol Leddington, a freshman at VCU, had gone to Tandem with Bilotta, who's now a senior there. When Leddington fils saw the flames, his first thought was that it was a forest fire.

"It was one of those moments with so much to think about that time slows down and then you blank out," he says. "I tried to call 911. My father was already running down to the car. I wasn't thinking about trying to help Eric. I wanted to help my father get away from the car. I thought, 'My father could die today.'"

Peter Leddington credits Bilotta's passenger, Neil Powell, with making critical decisions: he cut off the ignition in the car and undid Bilotta's seatbelt. And he'd called Millington Stables, where the two were headed, for help.

Tony Bilotta arrived at the scene of the accident and initially didn't realize Leddington had saved his son's life. "Peter was so calm," says Bilotta. "I thought he was part of the rescue team. He said, 'He's going to be fine.' He was the only one who calmed me down. That was amazing."

It wasn't until he was in the ambulance that he learned Leddington was the rescuer.

Leddington continues to downplay his response to the danger. "The thing that occurred to me afterwards was that it could have been my son," he says. "I can't imagine anybody not stopping.

"I think it flashed through my mind we only had a few seconds. If there had been more time, I would have worried about injuring [Bilotta]. They tell you never to move someone."

Leddington, who runs an online company, autowarrantybroker.com, calls his role in the incident an honor. "You can go your entire life wondering how you'd react in that situation, and here at 59, I find out."

His son learned something too. "I thought about how selfless he was " says the younger Leddington. "I think I need to be more like my father."

Bilotta, who'd turned 18 just two days before the accident, suffered a concussion and five fractures in his face, and was in the hospital until December 1. His father is still shaken by his son's brush with death. "It was a horrible accident," says Tony Bilotta. "He could have died– and would have if Peter hadn't been there."

Peter Leddington at the scene of the accident on Millington Road, where the trees and bridge are scorched from the flames that nearly engulfed an unconscious young man down by the river.