Bastrop Police Cpl. Chris Chavez was in his patrol car outside the Chevron gas station on Texas 71 in Bastrop when he got the call: Sixty-six-year-old Cynthia Demeritt was trapped in her bedroom that was quickly filling with smoke and she could see flames. It was just after 4 p.m. on Jan. 4, and Chavez raced to the Walnut Ridge Apartments just up the highway. When he arrived, he could see a group of people clustered at the window of a first-floor apartment and another officer, Monty Sanford, peering inside with a flashlight. Heat and smoke were pouring out of the living room, Chavez said. Sanford called to the woman inside to “come to the light.” Disabled and recently released from the hospital after surgery, Demeritt didn’t respond. Seconds later, the two men broke the window and Chavez jumped inside the burning apartment to rescue her.
“All I could think was “Let’s get this woman out of here,’” he said, recalling the incident. He grabbed hold of Demeritt and, with Sanford’s help, pulled her to the sidewalk outside, wailing and coughing. At a City Council meeting two weeks later, Bastrop Police Chief Steve Adcock played body camera video footage of the incident for a crowded room. After the tape rolled, he granted both men the “Life Saving Award” on Jan. 10 for their heroic efforts. “I didn’t expect an award,” Sanford said of the honor. “This is something that as police officers when we sign up we know we’re going to have to do this,” Chavez said. “The last thing we expect is to receive recognition because it is our job.” Chavez has been with the department eight years. Sanford is a three-year veteran.
Demeritt, who survived the incident in her burning apartment, was taken by ambulance to University Medical Center Brackenridge, then transferred to the Brooke Army Medical Center’s burn center in San Antonio, Bastrop Fire Chief Mark Wobus said. She was still recovering in the hospital last week, he said. The fire was contained to her apartment, officials said, but the damage was extensive and both Demeritt and her husband won’t be able to return to the home. Texas Firewalkers, a nonprofit who helps fire victims, is assisting the family with lodging and supplies. Fire officials last week said the cause of the blaze was accidental. Wobus said Demeritt fell asleep in her chair with a lit cigarette and it ignited the chair. He said her oxygen tank helped spread the fire. Some other units in the complex suffered smoke damage, Wobus said. Staff at the Walnut Ridge Apartments did not have a cost estimate for repairs last week.