SAN DIEGO – A group of five men on their way to work leapt into action Monday along westbound Interstate 8 in Lakeside to save an elderly couple from a vehicle engulfed in flames.
Video taken by a bystander and shared by Lakeside Fire Protection District shows the tense moments where the men guide the couple from their burning car to safety at a time when seconds mattered. The Arizona couple — both in their 90s — were taken to the hospital and are expected to make a full recovery.
Speaking to FOX 5 on Tuesday, the group said the elderly man in the driver’s seat couldn’t get his seatbelt off and that the couple largely was in shock when they found them.
“I saw how big the flames were,” Henry Hemphill said, “and I realized a few more seconds maybe we may have been too late.”
Hemphill’s friend Barry was the first to pull the driver out and suffered burn injuries. He remained in the hospital recovering as of Tuesday afternoon.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the people would have died had we not stopped because no one else was trying to,” Jeff Lucas said.
Lucas, Hemphill and the three other men in their vehicle are residents at the East County Transitional Living Center. They come from stories of homelessness, addiction and incarceration, but the story that unfolded Monday is one about their immense courage.
Hemphill admitted that a year ago, he would have been one of those people who just kept driving.
“I was so wrapped up in myself and had my own agenda,” he said. “Here at this program, I’ve changed. We have all changed.”
Hemphill added he would gladly save the couple again. As would Andre Leggett, for that matter.
“I’ve struggled with my own issues in my life,” Leggett said. “I’ve been a very self-centered person for a majority of my life and I would just want somebody else to do that for my mom, for my father.”
There to express their immense gratitude a day after the terrifying experience were two of the couple’s sons.
“I was happy that I was there to help someone else and make them happy,” Scott Andre said.
The men exchanged handshakes and hugs outside the center in El Cajon.
“The man said we changed their life and their family forever and he called us angels,” Lucas said.
The way these men have worked to transform their lives has now been the greatest gift they could have given not only themselves, but also this family.
The couple’s sons wished to keep the spotlight on the men whom they call “heroes”.