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Father suffers burns trying to save family killed in SUV crash

Witnesses of a fiery crash near Fresno that killed a mother and her four children over the weekend described how they had to pull the husband away from the burning wreckage as he tried to rescue his family.

"My husband ran out, he saw a car engulfed in flames and a man running around the car wanting to get his family out," Lori Pierce told the Fresno Bee. "He was in such shock we just had to pull him away."

Authorities said the 29-year-old mother, who was not identified, was driving south about 7 p.m. Saturday in a 2003 Ford Expedition in the community of Riverdale, south of Fresno. With her in the car were her four children, 1- and 3-year-old boys and 6- and 11-year-old girls.

Another woman, identified by the California Highway Patrol as Juana Martinez Bejarano, 41, was driving west on Excelsior Avenue in a 2004 Nissan at about 60 mph. At the intersection with South Marks Avenue, Bejarano apparently failed to heed a stop sign and the two cars collided, the CHP said.

The father was traveling behind the family in a separate car, officials said. After the collision, he broke out windows of his family's car and attempted to free those inside.

"Nobody was moving, nobody was screaming, nobody was crying," Robert Pierce, Lori's husband, told the Bee, adding that the car was engulfed in flames up to 15 feet high.

The father was not successful in his rescue attempts and suffered burns, CHP Sgt. Joseph Bianchi said.

"He lost his whole family in five seconds because somebody couldn't stop," Lori Pierce said.

Martinez Bejarano was injured in the crash and taken to Community Regional Medical Center, officials said. There was no evidence that drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash, Bianchi said.

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