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Woman Saves Driver In Fiery San Francisco Big Rig Crash

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The cab of a big rig cement hauler burns on southbound U.S. 101 near the Interstate 80 split, October 19, 2011. (CBS)

The cab of a big rig cement hauler burns on southbound U.S. 101 near the Interstate 80 split, October 19, 2011. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A woman who witnessed a fiery crash involving a big-rig on southbound U.S. Highway 101 in San Francisco early Wednesday morning was being lauded for saving a life after she dragged the unconscious truck driver to safety.

The crash occurred around 5 a.m. where the highway crosses over 16th Street, near Interstate Highway 80, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Keenia Williams, 22, was honored by fire and CHP officials at a noon news conference at the CHP’s San Francisco headquarters for her heroic actions.

“Seconds count in accidents like this, and without your bravery, the situation would’ve been entirely different,” San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.

Williams, a San Francisco resident, said she was driving her 5-year-old daughter to school when she looked in her rear-view mirror and saw a black vehicle spin out, another car hit it, then saw the big-rig slam into the cars and overturn.

Williams said she then saw the driver of the cement truck get out of the car and pass out on the ground as fuel from the crashed big-rig caught fire a short distance away.

She said she stopped her car and “my first instinct was to run over there, put my arms under his arms and drag him all the way to my car.”

Williams got water and poured it on the truck driver’s face. The driver, later identified as 52-year-old Concord resident Michael Finerty, regained consciousness and said he was in pain, she said.

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Meanwhile, fire and CHP crews had responded to the scene from the north side of the accident to put out the flames, which had engulfed the big-rig. They looked for victims, but did not immediately see Williams and Finerty on the other side of the wreckage.

“She made all the difference in the world,” Deputy Fire Chief Tom Siragusa said. “We probably wouldn’t have seen him if no one else had stopped.”

Finerty was eventually spotted with the assistance of some bystanders and was taken to San Francisco General Hospital. He suffered only minor injuries and has since been released, CHP Officer Tony Tam said Wednesday afternoon.

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Williams, who works at SteppingStone’s Golden Gate Adult Day Health Center in the city, said she provides some medical care at the facility but had no experience in rescue situations before Wednesday.

“I watch too much TV, and it seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.

She said she didn’t think twice before running toward the wreckage. “If that was me, I would’ve wanted someone to stop and save my life,” she said.

Hayes-White said she spoke to Mayor Ed Lee about Williams’ actions after the crash and said the mayor plans to honor her with a ceremony at a later date.

CHP Lt. Dane Lobb said that a while after all rescue crews had gotten to the scene, a man tried to get involved in the rescue efforts “and was being uncooperative” with authorities.

The man, whose name has not been released, was arrested on suspicion of obstructing peace officers, Lobb said.

The crash blocked all southbound lanes of Highway 101 for more than six hours while crews removed the vehicles from the roadway and repaired a damaged guardrail.

The two left lanes of the highway were opened shortly before 11:30 a.m. and the two right lanes were reopened shortly before noon, Lobb said.

Several on-ramps to the highway from San Francisco were also blocked for hours, backing up traffic throughout the city’s South of Market neighborhood.

Lobb said investigators were still trying to determine what caused the crash.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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