'The whole thing was rolling in fire'

Family narrowly survives car fire

Elieanna Cucchuria and her 7-month-old after her car exploded on June 18. The child suffered from burns and smoke inhalation. (Caitlin Yamada/ The Union)
Elieanna Cucchuria and her 7-month-old after her car exploded on June 18. The child suffered from burns and smoke inhalation. (Caitlin Yamada/ The Union)

WASHINGTON — On a warm Thursday, Elieanna Cucchuria and her friend were waiting outside of her vehicle while her daughter, 4-year-old Skylha Meyers, went inside to use the bathroom with the friend’s daughter.

Suddenly, Cucchuria noticed her car on fire with two of her children inside.

A neighbor heard what sounded like a bird hitting the window. Then she heard a boom.

She walked to her bay window and could feel the heat on her face.

“The whole thing was rolling in fire,” the neighbor said. “I saw the door open, and I thought, ‘Oh no, I hope nobody’s in there.’”

Nobody was in the car at that point, but the children had escaped only seconds earlier.

Cucchuria and her three children had gone on a walk with a friend and her daughter.

When they returned, Cucchuria put the two boys, 7-month-old Axel Meyers and 2-year-old Gunner Meyers, in their car seats and started the car. Four-year-old Skylha had to go to the bathroom.

It may be a trip that saved the family’s life.

Cucchuria turned around and screamed.

The 2003 Grand Caravan was filled with smoke, her two children inside.

Cucchuria opened the car door and couldn’t see the baby. The vehicle was so hot the car seat buckle was melting and plastic was dripping from the roof.

The friend went to the other side and pulled the 2-year-old out of the vehicle.

Seconds later, the van exploded.

Heat singed the leaves on a nearby tree black.

Once the fire was extinguished, only the metal framework remained.

Cucchuria and their father, Dalton Meyers, took the boys to the Washington hospital and were told to take them to the University of Iowa burn unit once they were stabilized.

The boys suffered from second- and third-degree burns along with smoke inhalation.

Baby Axel may have third-degree burns on his face, which could require surgery.

The family was told the best place for the boys was home because of the coronavirus. They have been driving back and forth between Iowa City and Washington for hospital visits.

The children’s great-grandmother Marie Eberhardt said if Skylha had not gone to the bathroom, the situation could have been much worse.

“God was watching over them,” Eberhardt said.

So was Cucchuria’s friend who helped pull the children from the van.

Eberhardt said not many people would be willing to risk their life to save someone else’s child.

“If it wouldn’t have been for her, Gunner would have been gone,” Eberhardt said.

The Washington Police Department told Cucchuria the fire was caused by either an electrical or mechanical issue.

The family has set up a fund in the parents’ name at Community First Credit Union. Those wishing to donate can ask the tellers.

The Washington hospital has donated car seats for the children.

“You see those things on the news, and you never think it’s going to be in your family,” Eberhardt said.