Wailuku resident Bob Gagne bought a van for $800, but within an hour on Friday afternoon his used vehicle was going up in flames - with him inside.
"My life went in front of my eyes," said the 60-year-old husband and father of two. "I thought I was dead."
Gagne said he picked up the van Friday afternoon from its former owner in Maalaea.
"The guy never told me there was a fuel leak," he said.
On his way home, Gagne noticed the 1997 Mercury Villager GS van's fuel was low, so he pulled into the gas station next to Carl's Jr. to put $40 of fuel in the tank.
Back on Honoapiilani Highway, he saw his gas gauge dropping. And, as he approached the road to the King Kamehameha Golf Club, he started to smell gas and smoke.
He asked himself: "What the hell?"
Smoke began to seep into the vehicle, "and the next thing I know there's flames coming up through the dashboard," he said. Around 4 p.m, he pulled over to the highway's shoulder roughly halfway between the golf course and the Maui Tropical Plantation.
"Then, I couldn't get the seat belt off. I couldn't open the damn door," Gagne said. "I thought I was dead. The whole car caught on fire."
Somehow, he got out of the vehicle uninjured.
"I don't know how I didn't get burned," Gagne said.
Two passers-by attempted to douse the flames with fire extinguishers, but they were unable to put out the fire.
By the time firefighters were on the scene, the vehicle was fully engulfed in flames, acting Maui Police Department spokeswoman Karen Wong said.
The vehicle's horn blared as firefighters worked to put out the flames. Flames did not spread to nearby brush or power lines.
Police closed the highway in both directions while firefighters worked to put out the blaze.
Gagne said his wife contacted the man who sold him the van, and he agreed to return the $800, although Gagne said he also wanted compensation for a $250 towing fee.
"I'm lucky to be alive," said Gagne, who moved to Maui from Rhode Island in 1986.
Feeling lucky he escaped injury, he said the experience was his first brush with death.
"This is my first, and I hope it's my last," he said. "I was thinking of my wife and kids.
"I feel fine now," he said as he shared his experience with a reporter. "I'm just chilling out right now."
Gagne, who works as a concierge at the Diamond Resort in Wailea, said he has two adult children - a 29-year-old son and a 27-year-old daughter who both live on the Mainland. He also has two granddaughters.
He said his new outlook on life is: "One day at a time and go forward."
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.