David Fire sat in his hospital bed in Santa Ana on Thursday, thankful to Patrol Officer Keith Thornhill to be alive. "I want to shake that man's hand," Fire said.
Thornhill on Wednesday had pulled Fire and a passenger from Fire's burning car shortly after it had been rear-ended in the car-pool lane of the Costa Mesa Freeway, near the MacArthur Boulevard off-ramp. Fire had to stop his car suddenly when cars ahead of him stopped, but the vehicle in back of him was unable to stop in time.
Thornhill, 25, was cut and burned in the rescue, but the California Highway Patrol said Thursday that he was recuperating at home and did not require overnight hospitalization.
"He suffered an inch-and-a-half cut (on his left arm), which required seven stitches, burns on his arms, smoke inhalation, and was singed just about all over," a CHP spokeswoman said. "And, yes, he probably will be nominated for a heroism award."
Fire said that Thornhill's quick action saved his life and Jason Tremball's. "My buddy and I were headed to the 405 to go into L.A. when that car struck his from behind," Fire said.
Fire had to stop his car suddenly when cars ahead of him stopped, but the vehicle in back of his was unable to brake in time.
"The car must have been going 60 m.p.h.," he said. "The impact knocked both of us out. I woke up when glass hit me in the face--it was the officer knocking the window glass out from the driver's side to try to get to me. The door wouldn't open, so he had to pull me out through the broken window.
"I saw the fire in the car, and he was yelling at me, 'Get out! Get out!' And with his help I was able to get out.
"Then both of us went around to the other side of the car to get out my buddy, who was still unconscious. We couldn't get that door open either, so we pulled him out from the driver's side window.
"After that, the adrenaline in me must have worn out because I went into shock and just collapsed."
Fire, 24, of Yorba Linda was taken to Western Medical Center and treated for cuts and sprains, he said. Tremball, 20, of Fullerton, was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center and released Thursday after being treated for burns, a hospital spokeswoman said.
There were no citations or arrests.
Fire said he and Tremball survived the impact of a high-speed rear-end crash because both were wearing seat belts. But he said only Thornhill's courageous action saved the two after they had been knocked unconscious from the collision and their car had started burning.
"He was very fast," Fire said. "He's an incredible person. He risked his life to save ours."