A 81-year-old Elkhart man died Monday night in what authorities are describing as a “horrific accident” after apparently becoming trapped in his burning vehicle which was stuck on his property.

David Orlando Lewis, 81, of Elkhart was pronounced dead Monday night at the scene of the accident which occurred near the end of his driveway on CR 165, just east of the Elkhart city limits, according to Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor.

Taylor said Lewis’ 2005 Lincoln caught on fire sometime around 8:30 p.m. Monday after he had apparently “gone off the driveway into a brushy area and got stuck.” The man was reportedly driving into Elkhart to pick up pizza for he and his wife, the sheriff added.

Authorities are theorizing that the catallytic converter on Lewis’ vehicle became hot as the man repeatedly tried to drive it out of the brushy area, ultimately contacting the grass and catching on fire, according to Taylor.

“He was in a little bit of a brushy, grassy area,” the sheriff said. “The catallytic converter gets very hot on those cars.”

After Lewis’ vehicle became stuck, Taylor said the man’s wife left the residence to seek help in getting it out. At the time, the car was not on fire, he pointed out.

When she returned with Anderson County Precinct 1 Constable Larry Bennett, the vehicle was in flames, the sheriff added.

“The driver’s side door of the car was blocked by a fallen log or tree and he couldn’t open the driver’s side door,” Taylor explained.

Along with Bennett, members of the Elkhart Volunteer Fire Department attempted to rescue Lewis from the burning vehicle, but the heat proved too intense.

“They couldn’t get close enough to get him out,” Taylor said. “They tried, but it was just hot...When a car catches, it ignites fast. It’s just like an inferno. And being 81 years old, God bless him. I feel for Constable Bennett and the firefighters who were trying to get him out and, of course, the man’s family.”

The sheriff said an autopsy has been ordered to be performed on Lewis’ body at the Southeast Texas Forensic Center in Tyler.

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Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at pstone@palestineherald.com.

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