Quick-acting police officer saves neighbor from fiery fate

Elijah Barrett, 3, watches a fire burn as Jonathan Higley talks with Grand Junction police officer William Cox at Higley’s home off Gunnison Avenue. Higley accidently caught himself on fire in his front driveway Feb. 12. Cox, who happened to be in the area at the time, saw Higley burning,  rushed to the scene and saved Higley by spraying him with a fire extinguisher.


William Cox could barely believe his eyes when he spotted a man on fire with flames crawling up to his waist.

In matter of seconds, just after the Grand Junction Police Department officer started his shift on a recent Friday night, Cox whipped his patrol car around, sped toward the burning man and quickly extinguished the flames with a fire extinguisher.

Cox’s quick work likely saved the man, nearby neighbor Jonathan Higley, from suffering any more damage than the football-sized burn etched into his right lower leg.

Cox, an officer with the department for a year and a half, is honored to have helped in such a dramatic way.

For Higley, and others in the neighborhood near 28 Road and Gunnison Avenue, the gesture has cemented a bond between residents and the officer they now call “Supercop.”

“It’s just one of those situations when I was in the right place at the right time,” Cox said. “I’ve been in situations to help people before, but not like this.”

Higley, his family and neighbors often gather in the Higleys’ driveway to sit around a fire pit and enjoy a couple of beers in the evenings. Cox, who lives nearby, had made contact with those at the gatherings before and sometimes swings by to chat about neighborhood news.

On Feb. 12, Cox was heading out to work and stopped on 28 Road to observe those around the fire when he saw a man pour gas onto the fire.

“Fire and alcohol, not a good combination,” Cox said he remembered thinking.

Sure enough, in seconds the man, who he later learned was Higley, was engulfed in flames. Some of the gas in the canister spilled onto Higley’s pants in his attempt to get the can away from the fire pit. Flames also spread to one side of the home, shooting 10 feet high.

After the situation was diffused, Cox called an ambulance, but Higley refused to be taken by ambulance to the hospital, citing the costs.

So, Cox took Higley to the hospital as a courtesy, and Higley was treated by a doctor and released.

Cox said he could have charged Higley with two applicable misdemeanor charges, third-degree arson and reckless endangerment. He did not levy the charges, taking into consideration the harm that already had been done.

Higley, his family members and neighbors can’t thank Cox enough. His presence makes them feel safer in the neighborhood that they say has improved in the past few years.

Neighbors used to complain about speeders barrelling east down Gunnison Avenue and jumping a berm where the road ends.

Gunnison Avenue appears to intersect with 28 Road but abruptly turns south at 90 degrees. A new sign and Cox’s watchful eye have helped reduce those instances.

Coincidentally, Cox grew up in the house next door to the Higleys and now lives about a block away.

Folks in the neighborhood like that, too. They considered running an ad in a local newspaper thanking Cox for all of his efforts.

“Everything that goes on in the neighborhood, we call him first,” Higley said. “There’s other officers that stop by and talk, but he just happens to be the friendliest.”


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