Good Samaritans save driver from burning car on I-80

The California Highway Patrol is crediting a handful of strangers for rescuing a man from his burning car, after a crash on Interstate 80.

That driver, 62-year-old Willie Collier of Richmond, remains hospitalized in critical condition at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.

But his chances for survival would have been minimal had motorists not stopped to help in the early moments. 

"It was just adrenaline and instinct, because he's somebody's father, somebody's uncle, somebody's son," passerby Javier Contreras told KTVU.

Contreras and his wife. Vanessa, were headed east on I-80 last Thursday morning, when they spotted a car crash just before the Cummings Skyway.

"The car, it was up against the center divider, with a flat tire, the hood open, and the whole back end on fire," described Contreras. 

The Cadillac sedan was filling with smoke. 

"And my wife said, 'What it someone's in the car?' and she stopped," he said.

Dashcam video from the first CHP cruiser to arrive shows an officer rushing to douse the car with a fire extinguisher, but well before his arrival, the unconscious driver had already been pulled out.  

"I was trying to get in the driver's door, I was pulling and pulling, it was jammed," said Contreras.

Contreras and another man reached the driver through the passenger door, and other good Samaritans joined in to help carry him across four lanes.   

"Some other guy comes over and puts a blanket on him, and someone else had a First Aid kit," recounted Contreras. 

A cousin of Vanessa Contreras' happened to drive by and shot cell phone video, not realizing her relatives were among the people clustered on the shoulder, trying to keep the injured man comfortable, with paramedics on the way. 

"I ran towards a burning car, which is something I've never done before, " said Contreras. "I thought about the danger, but thought if it's my time to go, I go. I'm doing something right, for a person, for a human being." 

Javier Contreras is a welder, and his wife is training to be a medical technician.
They have two young sons.  

"I'm proud of her, and she's proud of me. I want my son to know he should be a good citizen, a good person as well," said Contreras.

Alongside his dad, 8-year old Javier Jr. listened.

"My parents told me about everything and then I feel happy," said the youngster, "and I think he's a hero. And I like what he did." 

Contreras was gratified to hear Collier is alive, and recovering. "It's something I would hope anybody would do to try and help someone," he said.

And Contreras offered a shoutout, to Drew from Richmond, and Kevin from Vacaville, who also stopped without hesitation. "Thanks to everybody else who was courageous as well to do that and help that man," he said.