Man rescues infant as car erupts in flames near Caruthers

A car that burst into flames after hitting a power pole is removed from the crash scene on South Cornelia Avenue on Friday.
A car that burst into flames after hitting a power pole is removed from the crash scene on South Cornelia Avenue on Friday. The Fresno Bee

A man who rescued a baby girl moments before the car she was in burst into flames early Friday near Caruthers said it was thoughts of his own granddaughter that drove him to the act of heroism.

“I could hear the baby crying,” Jose Sanchez said. “I have a granddaughter. I couldn’t walk away.”

Moments after Sanchez rushed the baby to safety, the SUV that the infant, a man and a woman were in burst into flames and the two adults perished.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office is trying to identify the three. The baby is in good condition at a local hospital.

The vehicle, believed to be a Chevrolet Trailblazer, was destroyed in the fire after it slammed into a power pole on the 7300 block of South Cornelia about 3 a.m.

Sanchez said he woke when he heard his wife running through their nearby home shouting that there was a fire outside. Then he saw a flash from power lines along the side of the roadway and told his wife to call 911. He walked outside with a flashlight and a cellphone and saw what appeared to be a vehicle.

That is when he heard the baby crying. Sanchez said the back door of the SUV was open and the baby was on the ground next to it.

He said he saw a man who appeared to be the driver lying in the vehicle with his shirt on fire. Sanchez said that he put out the flames, but the man did not move. There was a woman in the SUV who appeared to be groaning, but was unconscious.

Flames began to spread in the car and Sanchez picked up the child and backed away from the street to a nearby almond orchard.

“The baby was crying,” Sanchez said. “I was yelling for my wife to call 911 and tell them that there were people in the vehicle. The flames were getting bigger. I knew I couldn’t go back.”

He said he didn’t hear the pair in the car cry out again and thinks they may have been unconscious when the flames enveloped the vehicle.

Sanchez believes the two adults somehow managed to get the baby out of the car before the fire erupted. Cassie Sanchez, his daughter-in-law, said Jose Sanchez brought the baby into the family’s home, shouting, “get a blanket.” Paramedics arrived about 10 minutes later and took the child to the hospital.

Jose Sanchez said he went to work later Friday morning. While many people might have wanted to stay home after such a traumatic event, he just wanted to get his mind off what happened.

Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said the fire damaged the license plate and the vehicle identification number of the vehicle, complicating identification of those involved in the crash. Anyone with information is asked to call 559-600-3111.