A 72-year-old man could face charges of driving under the influence of drugs after he was rescued Christmas Day from a burning car on a Southern California freeway, authorities said Thursday.
The unidentified driver was traveling north on the San Diego (405) Freeway Wednesday afternoon when, for unknown reasons, he lost control of his 1991 Mercedes Benz, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The car collided with the right-shoulder sound wall, veered across all lanes of traffic, collided into the center divider and burst into flames, CHP said in a report released Thursday.
When he spotted the flames, an LAPD bomb squad officer – dressed for work in his flame-retardant uniform – parked his car and jumped over two dividers to reach the unconscious driver.
“He only had maybe 10 to 15 seconds to be saved and just out of the grace of God, I was there and we had some good Samaritans there and he made it,” LAPD Officer Don Thompson told NBC4 after the rescue.
Two other drivers stopped and helped pull Thompson away from the burning car. The fire was extinguished by crews from the Los Angeles Fire Department, which arrived at the scene guided there by another witness – an off-duty battalion chief.
Thompson suffered minor burns to his right hand and forearm, CHP said. He was treated on scene by paramedics and released.
The driver suffered minor injuries and was taken to a hospital with neck and back pain, CHP said. He was later arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, the agency said.
After it was revealed that the driver whom he rescued had been arrested, Thompson said that pales in comparison to what happened Christmas Day along one of the nation's busiest stretches of freeway.
"It really doesn't matter that much to be because if it was alcohol-related, you know, he's made a mistake or whatever but that doesn't change the fact that he's alive, that he made it out OK," Thompson said. "That's the main thing."
The off-duty Los Angeles City Fire Department battalion chief echoed the sentiment.
"Those four good Samaritans spent a few minutes of their day on Christmas to save another human being," Battalion Chief Glenn Miyagishima said. "So those other factors that we heard today, doesn't matter."
He said it was "fantastic" to witness strangers save the life of someone they did not know.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.