This spring, chauffeur Michael Caithaml of Royal Touch Limousine Service in Cleveland was driving a client to his hotel when smoke and flames appeared behind the driver's seat of the 1986 Hess & Eisenhardt 24-hour limousine. "I was going 55 MPH down Route 21 at the time," says Caithaml, "and it took several minutes before there was room to pull over to the side."
By the time Caithaml could park and help his passenger from the car, the rear compartment was filled with smoke.
"At first, I tried to put the flames out with my coat," says Caithaml, "but the coat just exploded. It burned the whiskers off my face." As flames grew higher, Caithaml returned to the car several times to retrieve the client's luggage. As he pulled the last briefcase from the car, a tire blew out and the limousine then burst into flames. When the wreck was later hoisted onto a flat bed truck, weakened motor mounts gave way and the engine fell to the ground.
"If not for the actions and quick thinking of Michael, this would have been a fatal accident," says George P. Catavalos, president of Royal Touch Limousine Service. According to firemen at the scene, toxic fumes would probably have overpowered both the passenger and driver within five to ten seconds from when Caithaml pulled from the highway.
"It was the closest I ever want to get," says Caithaml who borrowed another limousine to finish his run that night.