An off duty police officer from Stockton is being hailed a hero after rushing into a burning car and rescuing two people inside.
Officer Mark Afanasav and his wife were visiting a Sacramento suburb Saturday night. Stopped at a traffic light, Afanasev told Sacramento television station KCRA that he heard a crashing and grinding sound, then saw two cars in a violent collision near Sunrise Boulevard and Douglas Road in Rancho Cordova. The officer says he then saw one of the vehicles overturn, the other hit a light pole, and burst into a fireball. Video of the collision and what happened next was caught on a dash cam that Afanasev had mounted in his car.
Though off duty, Afanasev said his natural instinct and training kicked in immediately. Afanasev said, “I realized I had to go help them because nobody else was around.” Video shows the officer driving toward the accident scene, jump out of his car and run into the flames, disappearing behind the wall of fire. “The only thing I could think of was there are people in that car. I’ve got to help them get out. I can’t let them burn in that car. I’ve got to do something.”
As his wife is yelling at him to be careful, Afanasev pulled one victim from the flaming vehicle as a man, his legs ablaze, ran through the wall of flames. “The female, I helped her and both of them away from the car. They were both screaming and they were both on fire.”
Afanasev later said, “I felt that God put me in that position for a specific reason. This is something that is just part of me to help somebody out, especially in something like this where I am the only one there to help them. God forbid had they been unconscious or something like that and they needed to actually be pulled out of the car.”
When asked if he considered himself a hero, the Stockton Police officer replied, “Not really. I mean every law enforcement officer I know, every firefighter, every paramedic would have done the exact same thing I did.”
While the two victims did survive, KCRA reports their burns were considered serious.