CROCKETT, Calif. - Officials across Contra Costa County are calling two men "heroes" after they pulled a man out of a burning car. The accident happened on Friday morning in Crockett, leaving a vehicle completely engulfed in flames.
Without any formal training, Eric Betances and Matthias Hofstadler, threw themselves in the line of danger to save a stranger.
Crockett-Carquinez Fire Department Chief Dean Colombo said it’s because of their actions that the driver in this crash survived.
"We just saw a car on fire and I stopped to see if there was anybody in there," said Betances, who is a mechanic for the city of Richmond. His family was traveling east along Cummings Skyway in Crockett when he saw a white SUV on the Westbound roadside in flames.
"I made a U-turn," he said. "I just happened to turn around and say you know what let me take a look. It didn’t feel right just leaving."
Betances said he had to jump over a fence to get to the vehicle, while his fiancé stayed in the car with their baby to record the event on a cell phone.
"As I approached the vehicle, I heard a guy yelling for help, so I just acted quick," said Betances.
He was not the only bystander who jumped in to help. As Betances was trying to open the car door, another man ran to the fiery car and helped him pry open the door.
"The door was jammed up, so I tried prying it and here comes Matthias," said Betances.
"I don’t think I was thinking at all. I just took the door and I just yanked on it," said Hofstadler.
Hofstadler said he couldn’t just stand by when he saw someone was trapped. "It could be somebody’s kid or parent."
"I remember when we pulled him out, his socks were on fire still," said Hofstadler. "That’s when the car just went huff."
"We just moved him out of the way and we just kept asking him if there was anybody else in the car," said Betances.
Betances and Hofstadler told KTVU that the driver was despondent and could not tell them whether there were other passengers in the car.
They called 911 and waited for help to arrive.
Firefighters from Crockett-Carquinez and Rodeo-Hercules Fire Departments responded, who did not find any other passengers.
By the time emergency crews arrived, the car was engulfed in flames, but the driver was alive and taken to the hospital.
"They were conscious and somewhat responsive, but you could see the injuries were quite significant," said Chief Colombo, who credits Betances and Hofstadler for saving the driver’s life.
"If they had not acted immediately, and without regard for their own safety – I truly believe he would not have survived," Chief Colombo said.
Richmond Mayor Eduardo Martinez, proud of his city employee, told KTVU in a statement:
"The actions displayed by Eric Betances to save a life was nothing short of heroic. Selfless acts are what make City of Richmond workers special. Every day we see sacrifices and dedication from the people that make this city run. Eric exemplified and exceeded these traits by casting his personal safety aside to save another human being. I, as Mayor of Richmond, am filled with pride and amazement by Eric’s action. My wish is that we all find a way to help someone else every day, without regard to personal gain, though in less dangerous conditions than Eric faced."
The California Highway Patrol is still investigating the incident. Officials said the accident was not caused by a collision, and only one car was involved.
Colombo is planning a recognition ceremony to thank the two men in person for their rescue.