EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A 38-year-old township woman died in a fiery car accident Tuesday despite the efforts of fellow motorists who pulled her from the burning vehicle and tried to revive her, State Police said.

Dawn Gonzalez, 38, of Egg Harbor Township, was driving in the center northbound lane of the Garden State Parkway near milemarker 38 when her Honda stopped, State Police said.

Thomas Zerbo, 22, of Ocean City, was traveling behind her and crashed into the Honda before spinning off to the left side of the roadway. The impact of the crash pushed the rear axle of Gonzalez’s Honda into her gas tank, which police believe led to the fire.

It was about 7:44 a.m. and motorists rushed to help. Toni Wilson, 35, of Egg Harbor Township, said she was southbound on the parkway and was about to take the exit ramp onto the Atlantic City Expressway when she saw the burning vehicle across the street.

Five men were prying at the driver’s door, said Wilson, who pulled over on the southbound shoulder and ran across the roadway to the burning vehicle.

“They were her jaws of life. They pulled her out of the car,” Wilson said.

The men took Gonzalez away from the car and began taking turns performing chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing, Wilson said.

“I helped her breathe and one other guy, who was a total stranger, gave her the compressions,” said Wilson, who’d received CPR training at the American Red Cross in Pleasantville a few years ago. “You still remember the training (years later).”

Wilson said Gonzalez was severely burned on her arms and had no pulse at first. They continued to tend to Gonzalez as her car continued to burn, with tires blowing up one by one.

“I told her, ‘You are going to live today on this road. You are not going to die on this road today,’” Wilson said. “I just kept talking to her like I knew her (even though) I was a complete stranger.”

Wilson said they were able to get a faint pulse about 15 minutes later just before EMS arrived.

“It seemed like an eternity, but those situations always feel like eternity,” Wilson said.

Fire engines arrived at about 8 a.m. to douse the flames.

Gonzalez was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, in Atlantic City, where she was pronounced dead, State Police said. Zerbo was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland Campus, in Galloway Township, for precautionary treatment.

Her friend Jane Stark, executive director of the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage, said Gonzalez worked in the casinos. The graduate of Mainland Regional High School lives on Old Zion Road with her husband and two children.

“She was such a devoted mother,” Stark said. “She was such a beautiful person.”

Jennifer Dean, 38, who currently lives in Georgia said she graduated with Gonzalez in 1993. The two then lost touch for years before reconnecting on Facebook.
"She just had such a gorgeous smile and personality to match and both are going to be greatly missed. All I really know is she loved her son Daniel & her husband very much."

Attempts to reach the family were unsuccessful.

Wilson said she glanced at Zerbo while at the scene and and said he was shaking and crying, almost hysterically, as if in shock.

“My deepest sympathies go out to the (Gonzalez) family,” she said

State Police said they believe Gonzalez may have stopped in her lane after missing her exit and wasn’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

No charges will be filed in the accident, said State Police, who confirmed that passing motorists did remove Gonzalez and attempted to revive her.

All northbound traffic was rerouted onto eastbound lanes of the Atlantic City Expressway. The parkway was reported reopened by 10:25 a.m.

State troopers from the Bass River barracks responded to the scene, as did Egg Harbor Township police and the Farmington and Bargaintown fire departments.

Staff writer Joel Landau contributed to this report.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

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