The humble and soft-spoken detective said he is not a hero, helping people is what he lives for.
As a child, Timothy Maxwell got in trouble in school. As a Volusia County deputy he saved a man‘s life.
And to his sheriff, Maxwell‘s actions when he calmly helped free an injured motorist trapped inside a burning vehicle on Interstate 95 last year represented the best in American policing.
Maxwell explained what drove him to action that night.
“Just hearing the screams coming from (the trapped motorist) and seeing the flames starting to come up to his legs, I made the decision that no matter what happened I was going to go in there and pull this guy out,” Maxwell said in a recent interview with The News-Journal.
The News-Journal is profiling Maxwell as part of its monthly First Responders series that highlights law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and other rescue workers and support staff who help keep our community safe.
Maxwell, 34, who Sheriff Mike Chitwood said “is very meticulous” with his job, keeps doing great police work. On Thursday, he received the Meritorious Service Award for his role in solving two gas station armed robberies.
The first honor, however — the Lifesaving Action Award — Maxwell literally earned under fire as he fought flames and choked on acrid smoke helping to break into a burning vehicle on I-95 near Edgewater on Jan. 9.
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It was pitch black, after midnight, Maxwell said, as he and Edgewater police Officer Kevin Nugent and Sgt. Stephen Binz desperately swung an ax in what Maxwell, now a detective, described “as the most intense call he had been a part of” as a patrol deputy.
Maxwell was on patrol in the area of Oak Hill and Edgewater that January morning when he heard on the police radio that authorities in Brevard County were asking law enforcement officers to lookout for a reckless driver speeding northbound in the southbound lanes of I-95.
Checking his computer, Maxwell estimated that the reckless driver would be approaching the Edgewater exit as he and Binz headed for the interstate.
At least six motorists called dispatchers to report they almost crashed into the wrong way driver.
“I knew that it was a serious thing, that this person was really putting people in danger,” Maxwell said.
The plan was to get to the interstate and intercept the vehicle with stop sticks and shut down the highway from Edgewater to the New Smyrna Beach so motorists would not be in danger.
Maxwell got to I-95 and straddled the shoulder of the road. His heart sank when a vehicle passed him southbound. Shortly after, two miles south of the Edgewater exit, he watched as it slammed into the oncoming suspect vehicle and burst into flames.
“I was on the side of the road looking southbound and I could see the taillights on the vehicle like go up in the air and like off to the side and I could see an explosion,” Maxwell said.
A soft-spoken Maxwell vividly described how he, Nugent and Binz engaged in the rescue to save 22-year-old Logan Aschendorf of Boca Raton.
The wrong way driver, Devin Stanish, 22, of Daytona Beach, perished in the wreck.
“I saw the suspect vehicle, the one that was driving the wrong way and it had heavy front end damage,” Maxwell said. “When you have been in the field a while, you can tell when it's not good and I pretty much knew that the guy that was driving that vehicle was deceased.”
The law enforcement officers‘ plans changed quickly when they heard screams coming from the damaged Cadillac sport utility vehicle where Aschendorf was entrapped. They could see that the engine was on fire, Maxwell said.
“It was the first time I had been in a situation like that,” Binz said, of the surreal event. “The occupant of the vehicle was still alive and we acted on instinct to save him.”
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Rescuing Aschendorf proved difficult as deployed airbags got in the way, the fire got hotter by the minute and smoke choked the rescuers. But the cries for help from inside the burning SUV made Maxwell and the other officers push forward.
Nugent arrived on scene with an ax and he and Maxwell took turns, desperately wielding the heavy chopping tool, pounding the SUV‘s door trying to break it open.
“We started swinging at this door with the ax trying to get a wedge in there, anything we could, so that we can make a crawl space for this guy to get out,” Maxwell said.
“We are doing everything to get him out, the smoke and the heat, it was affecting us physically but psychologically you are not even thinking about it, you know.”
It felt like it took forever to get Aschendorf out of the vehicle, Maxwell said.
“When it was happening it seemed like slow motion but it’s a very fast thing when you go back and watch the video,” Maxwell said.
The body worn camera video of the fiery rescue was played out on all major media outlets in Central Florida for the world to see.
Aschendorf, who according to Florida Highway Patrol investigators suffered incapacitating injuries, could not be reached for this story.
“Deputy Maxwell is a really good dude,” Nugent said. “He and I kept pulling on the guy and didn‘t give up till we got him out.”
For several years, Nugent and Maxwell had helped each other out responding to incidents in Oak Hill and Edgewater prior to the wreck on I-95.
On Thursday, Nugent said he missed working with Maxwell but will always remember a brief moment he had with the deputy on the side of I-95 after rescuing the Boca Raton man.
“I remember Maxwell and I sitting there hacking out all that smoke we had breathe in and having a bottle of water,“ Nugent said.
Chitwood said what amazed him the most about the rescue was the calm and coordinated manner in which Maxwell and the Edgewater officers handled the perilous incident.
“Even though deputy Maxwell and the officers don‘t train together, they methodically worked to get that guy out of the car knowing that the vehicle could blow up any minute,” Chitwood said. “That was impressive.”
Maxwell, though soft-spoken and humble, takes his job very seriously and was fearless in the rescue, Chitwood said.
“Deputy Maxwell has a huge heart,” Chitwood said. “He and the Edgewater officers represented the best in American policing that night when they put their lives in danger to rescue another human being.”
Maxwell, who for five years was a patrol deputy, believes his upbringing in Daytona Beach molded him into being the law enforcement officer he is now.
The sheriff‘s detective was raised by a single mother, who moved to Daytona Beach from Groveland when he was in second grade. He attended Westside and Bonner elementary schools and graduated from Atlantic High in 2008. He’s working on a bachelor‘s degree criminal justice.
“School days were fun but I can’t say that I was always a good kid, I’d get in trouble sometimes,” said the detective, who as a child was diagnosed with ADHD and had to take medication.
“It was to a point where I was getting in trouble in school to where I had to go to HBS (Halifax Health- Child and Adolescent Behavioral Services) and received counseling,” Maxwell recalled.
Growing up in poverty, watching his mother caring for two children, holding down a full time job so she could support them while studying to be a nurse, is what makes Maxwell have the passion for his job as a law enforcement officer, he said.
“That was very inspirational for me, and that's what makes her one of my biggest heroes and one of my biggest supporters now,” Maxwell said.
Today Maxwell tries to inspire troubled youth, especially those from broken homes. He tries to mentor those who lack positive male role models.
“I just try to show them that if I can come from this, then you can too, as long as you are willing to work to get there, like I was,” Maxwell said.
Having been a youth at risk, Maxwell said he better understands how young people think, and that‘s an asset in his current job as a juvenile crime investigator.
His childhood experience also came in handy when he was a patrol deputy.
Maxwell said he came face to face with 13-year-old boy armed with two butcher knives threatening to kill himself.
“That one stuck with me,” Maxwell said of the incident in Edgewater. “It was the first incident that I had that made me feel accomplished as a law enforcement officer.”
Maxwell was assisting Edgewater police in an incident where the 13-year-old reportedly had stabbed his brother, the detective said.
Maxwell was granted permission by the Edgewater police supervisor to take the lead in the case, he said.
“He was standing in the middle of the road, he had a butcher knife in each hand. He was crying, he was saying that he didn’t want to live anymore,” Maxwell recalled.
Maxwell said he approached the teen without drawing any weapons. Then he comforted the distraught boy. They started talking.
“I asked him what the root of his problems were and he said, ‘My mom won’t tell me who my dad is or won’t let me see my father,’” Maxwell recounted.
“And you know, I just started to tell this young man my story,” said Maxwell, who got emotional recounting the incident.
Maxwell said he explained to the teen that he also never had a father and that he and his father had Christmas for the first time when he was 30 years old.
“And I explained to him, you are 13 now. You got the rest of your life as long as you got air in your lungs,” Maxwell said he told the teen.
“He slowly started walking to me, he dropped the knives, he came over and he gave me a hug. I hugged him back and he just broke down crying in my arms and we got him secured and everything.”
After the incident on I-95, Maxwell said people recognize him as the ax-wielding deputy who pulled on the door of burning vehicle.
“I’ve actually had people in the grocery store go like ‘Are you that cop that was swinging that ax on the interstate?’ ”
Some people have even told him he is a hero.
“I would say others consider me heroic, or a hero but for me, it’s kind of what I live for,” Maxwell said. “It’s what I signed up for. I’ve always wanted to help people.”
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This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.