Good Samaritans pull man from burning van along Jacksonville highway

Driver rescued after troopers say he crashed into pole off I-295

By Corley Peel - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Good Samaritans saved a man’s life Monday morning when they stopped to help after seeing his van catch fire on a Jacksonville highway.

The Florida Highway Patrol said the van driver hit a message board and then crashed into a pole along Interstate 295 near Commonwealth Avenue Exit about 5 a.m.

Damian Baltazar said he and his coworker, Edward Algarin, were on the way to work when they saw the man's van catch fire.

Baltazar, who was in Georgia for work Monday night, told News4Jax by Facetime that they felt they had a window of opportunity to save him before his entire van burst into flames.

"His door was opened, but he was leaning out the car," Baltazar said. "His seat belt was still on and there was a fire in the passenger seat of the car."

Baltazar said a third man stopped to help and cut the driver’s seat belt off with a knife, allowing them to pull the driver out of the burning van.

About 15 minutes later, Baltazar said, first responders arrived.

According to the Highway Patrol, the driver suffered minor burns to the right side of his body and arms.

But if the good Samaritans hadn't stopped, the outcome could have been worse.

“I counted at least 10-15 cars that drove by, I mean, after we had stopped, before there was flashing lights," Baltazar said. "I feel like if there is no flashing lights, that means emergency response hasn’t showed up and if it looks like a fire is already going, and there’s smoke or something, and it makes sense to just stop real fast to see if you can help.”

Baltazar said although he and his coworker helped save a life, they’re hoping more people will step in to help when they realize someone’s life is in danger. 

Though the men who rescued the driver didn't catch his name, they said they would love to reunite with him someday.

Troopers said the driver was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and is expected to be OK. They said they're still investigating why the driver went off the roadway, but they do not believe he was impaired. 

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