Marine trainer risks her life to pull burning man from SUV
“Tustin woman saved man’s life, authorities say”
MISSION VIEJO Shawn Alladios pants were ripped to shreds, tattered from tires that exploded in the heat.
Her sweatshirt was completely scorched, lying beside her after she used it to put out the flames that were burning on the limbs of a man inside a SUV that was ablaze.
It was just after 11 p.m. on May 29 on the 5 freeway, just past La Paz Road.
Alladio was sitting on the side of the freeway and it smelled like burn all around her rubber, fiber glass and radiator fluid.
The 47-year-old water-rescue trainer was exhausted and starting to feel the injuries in her body; a broken wrist, burns on her hands and stomach. But it was nothing compared to the man she helped, she said. He suffered third-degree burns throughout his body but he would survive, firefighters said, because Alliado made a decision to stop and pull him out of a burning car.
Before she saw the SUV careen across the freeway like a burning comet, Alliado had already had a full day. She had been out on the sun for most of it, training water-rescue techniques to Marines at Camp Pendleton. It was a damp night, with a slight drizzle collecting on her windshield, when she saw the fire ahead of her.
I saw this huge fire ball that had just exploded, she said. It was like someone threw a bucket of fire.
According to the CHP, the driver of the SUV lost control of the car for an unknown reason and spun out of control into the path of a bus in the carpool lane. The SUV spun several times and burst into flames.
Alladios first instinct was to pick up her cell phone and dial 911, she said, but there were several cars stopped near the burning car and she figured someone must have already called.
Alliado sped up. Two lanes of traffic were stopped because of the fire. She stopped as close as she could and ran out toward the fire. As she neared the SUV someone yelled out, Did everyone get out? It made me run faster, she said. I thought hed been here longer. Nobody had gotten out. I thought, Someones in the truck.
What happened next took only a matter of seconds. The front and back of the SUV were completely filled with flames, as well as the drivers side. There was no way someone could be inside, she thought, but when she pressed her face into the glass and looked through the passengers side window she saw what seemed to be the figure of a man laying on the floor of the car.
He was unconscious but moving, she said.
The window shattered from the heat but she knew immediately she wouldnt be able to pull him out on her own. The door was damaged and she couldnt open it. When she touched it, it burned her hands.
I kept yelling, Come help me, though no one would, she said.
She peered into the car, but had to look away every so often to breathe and escape the heat. She would have to pull him out through the window, she thought.
Alliado kept yelling for help, but no one would come.
She took off her sweatshirt and, through the window, used it to swat the fire on the mans arms and legs.
He was burning like a candle, she said.
Every time she would put out flames on his body, they would reignite.
Im still yelling at people, looking at their faces, she said. Some just drove away. A lot of people just stared.
Alliado worried she wouldnt be able to save the man. She placed her hands underneath his arms and tried to pivot her forearms against the window. She was able to put him into the seat. Then, putting her foot on the hot door, she tried to leverage the body to pull him through the window. The mans body was halfway out when she saw a car stop nearby.
One of the passengers got out and ran toward her, and thats when help started pouring in, she said.
I dont even remember their faces, just their hands reaching out, she said.
Once the man was out, Alliado and others tried to pull off his burning clothes to keep him safe.
I felt so sad, she said. I looked at my body and I dont know why I wasnt on fire.
After that I just collapsed, she said. I was crying. I was so angry watching this man burn.
It was then she saw the first-degree burns on her fingers and second-degree burns on her stomach, which she must have gotten when she pressed herself against the hot car. Her lungs bothered her and she could tell her wrist was fractured. Her eyes are still sensitive to light, but firefighters said her actions saved the mans life. As firefighters neared the scene, the car was completely engulfed.
If anyone was going to be inside, theyre going to be dead, said Capt. Mike McGrath of the Orange County Fire Authority, whos engine company was the first to arrive. Theres no doubt he would have been dead. She saved his life.
The man was taken to Western Medical Center in Santa in serious condition, said Capt. Greg McKeown of the Orange County Fire Authority. He is expected to recover.
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