SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — There wasn’t much time to think about the risk or the flames. A San Jose police officer had just seconds to reach into a vehicle as it was ablaze on the side of Highway 101 and pull an injured motorist to safety.
The rescue was captured on video and posted to Instagram by the crew of Engine 16 stationed in east San Jose.
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According to California Highway Patrol Officer Ross Lee, there were two vehicles involved in the crash at around 2:30 p.m. Sunday — a Dodge Ram 3500 and a 1997 Toyota Avalon.
The Dodge was traveling I-280 southbound, heading towards 101 southbound when it was rear-ended by the Avalon. Both vehicles became “attached” to one another and finally came to a rest on the shoulder of 101. As the fire started, the driver of the Dodge attempted to get the injured driver of the Avalon out but was unsuccessful. The driver of the Dodge then separated the vehicles, but the driver of the Avalon was still inside, with fire spreading.
At that moment, San Jose Police officer Pedro Garcia was passing by on Highway 101. Garcia had planned to stop for lunch at his parents’ home in east San Jose, but due to short staffing and an increasing workload, Garcia changed his mind and opted to continue down the freeway.
Garcia spotted the Avalon engulfed in flames, radioed the incident into 911 dispatchers and pulled over.
“Some guys were yelling, I asked them if there was someone inside the vehicle, they responded with ‘Yes!’, so I immediately ran towards the vehicle, kind of saw the person. I was in shock. And decided to yank him out of the vehicles and drag him towards the fire department,” said Garcia.
Still images from Garcia’s body camera showed the driver unconscious, slumped over with the airbags deployed.
The video shows Garcia running toward the burning vehicle, pausing for only a moment before reaching into the vehicle as the flames advanced. Garcia can then be seen struggling with the driver. Apparently, the driver’s shoes melted, and fused into the floorboards of the car. What’s more, the unconscious driver woke up during the rescue and grabbed onto the steering wheel and door jamb.READ MORE: FBI Gang Enforcement Operations Lead to Charges in 2 Attempted Homicides in East Bay
“It was hot but I grabbed him. I went under (his armpits). I started yanking him and he was grabbing on. That’s when I explained to him, his car’s on fire, to let go. ‘Hey bro, your car’s on fire, let go!’ And he wasn’t reacting to that, so I explained ‘Hey bro, let go! Let go!’ And as I was yanking him, he finally let go and I just dummy dragged him all the way towards the fire department where they were right behind us, and I placed him down. ‘Sir, just take a seat you’re okay, fire department’s going to take a look at you,” said Garcia.
The “dummy drag” is a rescue technique taught at the Police Academy, where recruits must lift a 170 pound human-shaped sandbag and drag it several yards. Garcia graduated from the academy in February and completed field training over the summer. The 29-year-old rookie officer worked previously as a fire sprinkler installer. He is 6’2”, 195 pounds and remarked on making the rescue look “easy.”
“I believe it’s just that my adrenaline was so high. I don’t know what to say to be honest,” said Garcia.
Paramedics transported the driver to Regional Medical Center in San Jose, for lacerations and smoke inhalation. The officer and the other driver were not injured.
Chief Anthony Mata said the rescue was a “once in a lifetime event” that Garcia happeneded to experience very early in his career.
“Courageous, brave. And for him, in eight months, it’s just amazing. Extremely proud of him,” said Chief Mata.
The cause of the crash and fire remains under investigation but the CHP said it appears the driver rescued in the fire may have caused the rear-end crash. He has not yet been cited.
Garcia reflected on his newfound description of hero.MORE NEWS: Conservatives to QAnon: Facebook Researchers Saw How Its Algorithms Led to Misinformation
“Life is too short, and your life can change in an instant,” said Garcia. “I don’t consider myself a hero. I believe anyone else would done the same thing. I just did the right thing.”