Mitch looked up from his radio and saw the cars collide. Both drivers lost control, he said. One car flew through the air, and when it returned to earth, an errant spark set it ablaze. The driver, though, never emerged.
In the quiet intersection of Lower Sacramento Road and Harney Lane, Mitch was the only person there to reach for a man caught in the flames.
“I didn’t even think about it,” said Mitch, 30, who didn’t want to provide his last name. “I just knew I needed to get that guy out of that car.”
With the other car, a Toyota Sequoia, off the road and tangled in a chain-link fence, Mitch rushed toward the flames.
In the driver’s seat, he could see a man, dazed and fumbling with the seat belt as the fire quickly spread.
“He was conscious, but he wasn’t all there,” Mitch said.
By the time Mitch reached the door, flames had already engulfed the bright red Chevrolet El Camino. Fire emerged from the hood, the floorboards, the dashboard, the base of the door.
But Mitch opened the door and leaned in.
He’d entered a fiery hell, flames close enough to brush the driver and the seat belt Mitch needed to reach.
“(The flames) were right next to me the whole time,” he said.
Fighting through the heat, through the fire, through the fear, Mitch stretched for the seat belt and felt it unlatch.
Finally, the driver was free.
Mitch pulled him from the blaze, threw him over his shoulder and hauled him away.
They sat on a nearby curb. Mitch wrapped the driver in a blanket and they watched the car burn.
“I was sitting there, praying with him that he’d be all right,” Mitch said.
After 10 minutes, another passerby pulled up with a fire extinguisher and put out the flames. By then, Lodi firefighters and police officers had started to arrive.
Both drivers were hospitalized with minor injuries, according to Division Chief Aimee New of the Lodi Fire Department.
Lodi police officers believed that the Sequoia, which was driving west on Harney Lane, collided with the El Camino, which was heading north on Lower Sacramento Road, at around 10:30 a.m., according to Lodi Police Sgt. Mike Manetti.
The collision sent the Sequoia off the road, over a stoplight and into a chain-link fence.
Both vehicles were severely damaged, and it took crews roughly an hour to clear the scene.
Lodi police are still investigating the cause of the accident, Manetti said.
“Someone’s light must have been red,” said Manetti, who added that both drivers gave different accounts of what happened.
When fire and police crews arrived, Mitch knew the El Camino’s driver would be all right. So he hopped in his car and left.
He didn’t want to be late for work.
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.