By Brenda Gazzar, Daily News, Los Angeles
Dec. 26 — A 72-year-old man who was pulled from a burning car Wednesday by a police officer on the 405 Freeway in Sherman Oaks has been arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, the CHP said Thursday.
The Los Angeles driver, who was not identified, was transported to UCLA Medical Center for complaints of pain to his neck and back, said CHP Officer N. Smith. Smith could not say where the man was being held on Thursday.
The driver of the black Mercedes Benz station wagon was traveling on the northbound 405 Freeway Wednesday approaching the 101 interchange when he lost control, collided with the right shoulder sound wall, veered across all traffic lanes, collided into the center divide concrete jersey wall and burst into flames, according to a CHP statement.
Officer Don Thompson, a 26-year veteran with the Los Angeles Police Department, was traveling southbound on the 405 on his way to work in the LAX area when he saw the crash, said Lt. Andy Neiman, a department spokesman.
Thompson pulled over to the center median, jumped over the wall, opened the station wagon’s door and saw a man unconscious in the driver’s seat.
“The fire was starting to spread inside the passenger compartment,” Neiman said Sunday. “He was able to cut the seatbelt with his knife, pulled the gentleman out of the vehicle and two citizens who also stopped came up and also assisted in pulling the driver further away from the vehicle.”
Although he wasn’t on duty yet, Thompson was in his bomb squad truck and uniform at the time, Neiman said. Thompson sustained first and second degree burns, abrasions to his hands and knees and suffered from smoke inhalation during the rescue. Thompson was treated at the scene and then taken to an urgent care facility for his serious injuries.
“Nobody would have survived that vehicle based on what the Fire Department observed when they arrived,” Neiman said. “It truly is a Christmas Day miracle. It’s the best gift that Officer Thompson and the gentleman in that car could have received that day.”
That sentiment was echoed by Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Erik Scott.
“I spoke to a couple of individuals that arrived on scene and saw this take place,” he said. “Without the intervention of civilians and the officer, that man would have died.”
An off-duty Los Angeles Fire Department battalion chief, also driving on the southbound 405 Freeway, witnessed the incident as well and was able to contact the department’s dispatch center directly. He told them the quickest way to access the burning car, which saved them at least five valuable minutes, Scott said.
“It got our resources to come up a unique route … and got them right on the scene quick,” he said. “They were able to extinguish the flames and treat and transport the injured driver.”
The battalion chief, who Scott did not name, was also able to evaluate the injured driver shortly after the incident, Scott said.
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