When a black man with a history of run-ins with the police saw an officer trapped in a fiery crash, he had to make a crucial decision. Unbelievably, his next move shows the true state of race relations today.
While relaxing at his house, 31-year-old Daylan McLee was startled by a noise so loud that the impact shook his Pennsylvania home. Bewildered by the massive boom, the Uniontown resident hurried outside to see what had caused the commotion. He then witnessed a horrific scene. McLee stepped outside to see a devastating collision between a civilian’s car and a burning police vehicle.
Trapped inside the patrol car was Uniontown Police Officer Jay Hanley, who was seconds away from being burned alive. McLee could’ve recalled his painful history with law enforcement, which includes being wrongfully arrested and jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. With just seconds to spare, McLee had to make a critical decision — should he step in and save a man whose profession had caused him so much turmoil or wipe his hands of the situation?
Without hesitation, McLee sprinted toward the blaze, which had just begun to spread into the passenger compartment. In an instant that witnesses are attributing to superhuman strength, McLee tore open the door, freed the pinned officer, and dragged him away from the flames, WTAE reports.
“He was asking not to be moved. Not to be moved. His leg,” he said. “Then we started to see the flames start to come inside of the car from the bottom and I knew we had to get him out. Another officer tried to assist me and I just ripped the door open and we started dragging him across the street before the car ignited or anything serious like that.”
Uniontown Police Captain David Rutter helped McLee pull Officer Hanley away, saving him from horrific burns and impending death. The officer was flown to Morgantown hospital, where he underwent surgery for a leg injury.
Despite several run-ins with the police, McLee says that it never occurred to him to leave an innocent man for dead. He told reporters that his Christian faith commands forgiveness and love, and he wasn’t about to let someone burn to death.
“I know this man is my brother through Christ, and I couldn’t leave him behind,” McLee told KDKA.
“There is value in every human life,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We are all children of God, and I can’t imagine just watching anyone burn. No matter what other people have done to me, or other officers, I thought, ‘This guy deserves to make it home safely to his family.'”
Given McLee’s history, he would’ve had every reason to want to stay out of the situation. In 2018, he sued four Pennsylvania State Troopers for wrongful arrest after he was jailed for a year. The officers insisted that McLee had pointed a gun at them, firing shots at him as he fled the scene. The truth was that McLee had disarmed a gunman in the parking lot of a local bar and immediately discarded the weapon before it could be used. He was later acquitted by a jury after surveillance footage exonerating him was reviewed.
“Some people may think I look intimidating,” he said, “and I can’t hate the trooper who shot at me for what he doesn’t know. I don’t want to be called a hero. I just want to be known as an individual who is an upstanding man.”
Uniontown Police Lt. Thomas Kolencik got choked up when recounting McLee’s words just before he rushed to rescue Officer Hanley.
“Daylan actually said, ‘I’m not going to let him die.’ There’s just no words to describe, you know,” he recalled. “We are so thankful Daylan was in the area at the time. It could have been a lot worse.”
McLee wants to send a message of unity and forgiveness between law enforcement and communities. He hopes that his story will encourage young people not to fear the police.
“To teach humanity, teach children that it’s OK to reach out to officers. Not all of them are bad, not all people are bad,” McLee said. “I haven’t had the best past with law enforcement, just to know there’s still good people out there.”
McLee hopes to fight other charges of fleeing and resisting arrest after officers in plainclothes reportedly showed up at a gathering with their weapons drawn. He claims that they didn’t announce that they were law enforcement, so he ran.
If an act of police brutality can make national headlines for weeks, an act of heroism should be given the attention it deserves. Hopefully, the spreading of McLee’s valor and his incredible message of reconciliation will gain just as much traction as the negative news stories.