Police say speed was undoubtedly a factor in a crash that killed a man at West Dapto overnight.
The man, aged in his 20s, was a passenger in a car that was incinerated on Cleveland Road about 2.10am Friday.
The car came unstuck on a bend about 1.2kms west of Dapto High School. It ploughed through a barbed wire fence and into a tree, exploding on impact.
Lake Illawarra Police Inspector Paul Allman said residents of Cleveland Road dragged the driver out of the badly crumpled wreck before the car went completely up in flames.
“They’ve done a great job and they’ve probably saved that fella’s life,” he said.
“[The passenger] was trapped and unable to be saved.”
The 24-year-old driver was taken to Wollongong Hospital with fractures to his body. According to the local health district, he remains at the hospital in a critical condition.
Crash investigators worked through the night to establish the path taken by the car in the moments leading to the tragedy.
“They have indicated that speed was definitely a factor here,” said Insp Allman.
“[The driver] will be facing some serious charges.”
Later Friday morning, the roadside was littered with debris thrown clear of the incinerated car – a broken rear view mirror, a radio, shattered glass and a dislodged red P-plate.
Paul Skimmings, who lives a short distance from the crash site, said he was surprised there hadn’t been more accidents on the semi-rural roadway.
“They just come roaring down here," he said.
"They use it like a drag strip because it's straight and it’s quiet."
The fatality had left family members of the deceased man distraught and had sparked concern within the policing fraternity for the welfare of officers who witnessed the aftermath of the crash, Insp Allman said.
The fatality came two days after a police road compliance operation targeting mobile phone offences and speeding in school zones.
With holidays approaching, police are urging drivers not to contribute to the already above-average annual road toll.
“Just slow down, that’s the message,” Insp Allman said.
Three NSW Fire and Rescue crews helped extinguish the blaze.
Cleveland Road was closed in both directions after the crash but has now reopened.