Former Notre Dame LB Darius Fleming comes to the rescue
Darius Fleming is no stranger to injuries, two of which almost derailed his promising NFL career.
His latest, receiving 22 stitches for cuts in his leg last Thursday, in large part reveals the fortitude and character behind why the former Notre Dame standout outside linebacker never let that dream die.
Some news outlets, led by TMZ, questioned his character as the story unfolded Wednesday, temporarily turning the feel-good story into a wild goose chase of sorts.
Ultimately, there were plenty of police and witness corroboration to support Fleming’s account of the events.
Fleming said he suffered the cuts Thursday after helping rescue a woman trapped in a smoking car, yet still played in the New England Patriots’ 27-20 playoff victory over Kansas City Saturday in Foxborough, Mass., and made two tackles in the game.
The Patriots visit Denver Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, with the survivor moving on to the Super Bowl.
According to a report from ESPNBoston.com, Fleming witnessed an accident involving a semi truck and three cars after practice on Thursday, on U.S. Route 1 near Gillette Stadium.
“The semi made a real sudden stop, made a right turn, and it kind of threw the three cars behind it off,” Fleming told reporters, including ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss. “So the lady in front of me couldn’t stop and she rammed the car in front of her.
“That car (swerved) around the car in front of it. I was about to go around it, but I noticed the lady in front of me, she kind of was jumping around the car, passenger seat, back seat, and I noticed the car started to smoke and I didn’t think much of it.
“I thought she was trying to get out of the car. Then I realized the smoke was building up inside the car. So I was like, ‘I should get out of here and try to assist her a little bit.’ I tried to open the doors, and it wouldn’t work. So then I was just like, ‘I have to get her out of here. I don’t know if this lady can breathe or what.’
“So I started banging on the window. It wouldn’t break. So then I started to kick in the window and eventually it broke. I pulled her out and made sure she was OK. At this time a lady was coming out of an adjacent building and was assisting her, and I noticed my leg was bleeding pretty bad, so I said, ‘I should probably get out of here.’
“Came back here (to the stadium) and got it bandaged up a little bit and then went to the hospital and did the rest of the work (22 stitches).”
TMZ claimed to have called several agencies with none of them having a report that synced up with Fleming’s account, and even claimed to have spoken to a Foxborough police source who allegedly said "It's starting to look like Manti Te'o."
It was the Walpole Police Department, though, and not Foxborough, that handled the incident.
Later on Wednesday, Walpole deputy police chief Chris Mackenzie issued the following statement:
“At 4:50 p.m. today the operator of the vehicle in question returned our calls to give further detail. She said that due to the nature of the accident her vehicle lost power and she could not get out. At that time a male who she believed to be a Patriot approached the passenger side and indicated to her that he would kick in the passenger side window, which he did.
“She then crawled over to the passenger side, and the unknown male assisted her in climbing out of the window. She said she did not recognize the player and did not realize that he was hurt at the time. She said that she would like to remain anonymous but that she would like to express her thanks to the individual who came to her aid.”
Walpole police chief John Carmichael then took to Twitter.
“The police report does not reflect the actions of the Good Samaritan as he was not identified at the scene. The victim is grateful for help,” he tweeted.
And then this: “FYI. The Walpole Police Department has not spoken to anyone from TMZ or provided them with any official information.”
Kathryn Sotnik of New England Cable News (NECN) spoke to the 25-year-old woman Fleming pulled from the car. The woman said that she is "so gracious" that he helped her.
She called Fleming "compassionate" and that he offered to stay with her. The woman, who didn't want to be named, said she was "in shock" that a Patriots player stopped to help her.
A person who witnessed the crash said they watched Fleming pull the woman out of the car "like a rag doll," Sotnik reported.
Fleming, a Chicago St. Rita High product. was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft in April of that year, but tore an ACL in his knee a month later in mini-camp.
That wiped out his rookie season. The next summer, on July 30, he retore the same ligament, wiping out his 2013 season. Fleming spent that season on injured reserve and was waived the following May.
He has spent most of the past two seasons on New England’s practice squad, but earned a promotion to the active roster late in each of those seasons.