Father, son lauded as heroes for pulling man from burning car wreck

A San Jose man’s courage and his young son’s quick thinking are being credited with saving the life of a man caught in a burning vehicle earlier this year in San Francisco.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 46, and his 14-year-old son Alfonso Rodriguez III were honored by the California Highway Patrol on Friday morning at the CHP’s San Francisco headquarters.

Rodriguez and his family had been driving to San Francisco on March 13 for St. Patrick’s Day festivities early that afternoon when they spotted the smoldering car on the interchange from northbound U.S. Highway 101 to Interstate Highway 280 and pulled over.

According to the CHP, 31-year-old Nathan Anthony Lavelle, of San Francisco, had apparently taken the turn too quickly, lost control, hit the divider and spun out. Rodriguez and his son found him unresponsive and on fire inside the vehicle.

“Time seemed to have stood still,” Rodriguez reflected Friday about the surreal incident. “There was only silence, but I could hear the crackling of the car burning.”

Rodriguez said he found the driver’s side door locked and tried to kick in the window.

“It was just a matter of spontaneous reaction,” he said.

That’s when Rodriguez’s son, who was at his side, decided to run back to the family truck and grab a wrench.

“I told him that was quick thinking,” his father said Friday.

Rodriguez then used the wrench to smash the window, opened the door, and dragged Lavelle, whose shirt was still on fire, from the car to safety.

“Their actions that day went beyond any Good Samaritan,” said CHP Capt. Paul Fontana. “They were heroic.”

Lavelle was rushed to the hospital with serious burns and is still recovering.

Rodriguez said he spoke with Lavelle by phone earlier this week.

Rodriguez, a single dad whose right arm is paralyzed from an accident years ago, said he offered to speak with Lavelle about coping with disability. The two hope to meet in person soon.

“He told me that he owed me a bunch of things,” Rodriguez said. “I assured him that he owed me nothing.”

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