By Ben Brumfield
(CNN) — Duty called a volunteer firefighter in New Hampshire on Christmas Eve to the site of a fatal car crash, where fate dealt him a heartbreaking blow.
The mangled body of a dying woman he removed from the crushed SUV in the town of Brookline was his own daughter, CNN affiliate WMUR reported, citing police.
Ellworth Austin said he knew both the volunteer firefighter, Steve Whitcomb, and the daughter, Katie Hamilton.
“It’s a terrible tragedy,” said Austin, who, like Whitcomb, runs a plumbing business in Brookline. “It’s Christmas … and everybody is pretty teary-eyed.”
The firefighter didn’t recognize his daughter’s body at the time, police chief Bill Quigley told local newspaper The Union Leader.
“Her father was the one who pulled her out of the car without knowing it was her,” Quigley said.
Hamilton, 30, died of her injuries caused when another vehicle struck hers from behind, pushing it into the opposing lane of traffic, where a third car collided with hers head on, Quigley told WMUR.
Hamilton leaves behind not only her father.
“I know that she is a young mother,” Quigley said. “It’s a sad, sad day for all of us, not just because it’s Christmas Eve.”
In Brookline, almost everyone knows Whitcomb and the tragedy he has suffered. The town of 4,000 holds Hamilton and Whitcomb in high regard, Quigley said.
The drivers of the other vehicles were not hurt. Police think the driver of the car that rear-ended Hamilton may have been distracted, the chief said.
“We are pretty certain that speed and impairment were not a factor so that would rule it down to driver distraction at this point,” Quigley said.
Police are still investigating the cause, and no one has been charged, WMUR reported.
CNN’s Darrell Calhoun contributed to this report.
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