With Ethan, 2, in his car seat and Paiden, 9, buckled up front, mom Codee Cardoza went to pass a semitruck while driving home from a doctor's appointment. But when the truck's trailer started coming into her lane from behind, Cardoza swerved and caught her tire on the highway shoulder.
"I was going about 65 when I hit the barrier, and the car flipped numerous times, across the slow lane and into the fast lane," Cardoza told Sierra News Online. "When we first flipped it felt like forever, hearing my kids scream, feeling the airbags going off in my face and punching me backwards. It felt like an eternity."
According to a Facebook post written by her sister, Cardoza and her children were trapped in the car while people just stood by filming and taking pictures until a stranger broke through. "With the smell of leaking gasoline, and no chance of firefighters or paramedics getting to the scene in time, a man bravely jumped the highway median and risked his own life to begin pulling my sister and her kids from the smoking SUV."
Kirk Cardoso was driving on the opposite side of the highway, and when traffic didn't stop following the crash, he did. "I saw the dust kick up, they rolled, and I knew it was bad," Cardoso said.
Despite oncoming traffic, Cardoso ran across the highway and jumped over the barrier to get to Cardoza and her children. "I heard screams, I saw flames, and I heard her screaming, 'get my kids.' My instincts were to get to that rear seat."
Cardoso managed to get in through the window, on his back, and saw the toddler trapped in his car seat as the smell of gasoline grew stronger. "I knew this was a bad combination, gas and fire, and I was pleading for more help, saying 'someone please help.' Finally, two other men from a concrete crew pulled over and got Codee's daughter out of the passenger side."
Despite all of the bystanders, nobody came to grab Ethan's hand after Kirk got him out of his car seat, so as the clock ticked, Kirk ran Ethan to safety and told him to stay put.
While Cardoza was undeniably grateful for everything Cardoso did to save her, he wasn't the only one who surprised her — everyone else's lack of compassion was equally startling. "You see this man pulling this family and you stop and take a photo? You see him put a little kid on the ground and you don't stop and help? The [highway] is right there. What if my son didn't stay put? It's a big miracle."
Cardoso immediately ran back to free Cardoza and as soon as her feet hit the ground, the car caught on fire. "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," Cardoza said. "It was not even a minute from us landing where we did, to the car on fire. It was less than a minute. There were flames right where my daughter and I were sitting."