The off-duty actions of San Antonio police Sgt. Jesse Garcia have earned him some praise on the job, including a Certificate of Merit, which he received from Chief William McManus Monday morning.
McManus held a news conference to recognize Garcia for his bravery in helping two teens escape a burning car.
Garcia was on his way home from work around 3 a.m. Saturday when he looked up from his motorcycle and saw the burning wreckage near Loop 1604 East and Sulfur Springs Road. The car had hit a pole and was on fire.
"I just went up to the fire and, never in my mind did I think that there would be people inside vehicle,” Garcia said. “I heard (the driver) saying, 'I don't want to die in this way. I don't want to die. Don't leave me.'"
Garcia described seeing the burning vehicle as shocking and surreal.
Finding people inside the car, though, was an even bigger surprise. He said he immediately used his radio to call for help, then went to work, freeing the driver by melting her seatbelt in the fire. He said her seatbelt was stuck and, since he didn't have a knife, he thrust the seatbelt into the flames until he could get it loose.
"And I went back in there and that's when it got a little worse. I felt my shoulder catch on fire and I could hear the crackling of the helmet," Garcia said.
Two passersby — an off- duty volunteer firefighter who happened to have a fire extinguisher, and a man who happened to be dressed in a fire resistant work suit — also stopped to help. With assistance from them, Garcia was able to pull the passenger to safety too.
Both teens, 17- and 19-year-old girls, were rushed to a hospital for treatment of burns and broken bones.
"Sgt. Garcia is a hero in every sense of the word," McManus said, after handing him a Certificate of Merit. "It shows what character and courage the members of this police department have.”
McManus said Garcia will also be nominated for a Lifesaver Award at a later date.
McManus also noted that prior to Garcia’s heroic efforts, the last San Antonio police officer to stop and help a stranger in need died in the process.
Officer Sergio Antillon was hit by a suspected drunken driver in October 2010 after he stopped on his way home from work to help a stranded motorist on Loop 410 near Culebra Road. Antillon died from his injuries about two weeks later.