Glen Davis was driving to work this morning when he saw the late-model four-door sedan lodged in the side of a tree on Sunrise Boulevard in Citrus Heights.
He said he almost kept driving to his job at the American River Fish Hatchery, since a couple had already stopped to help the occupants of the crashed car, apparent victims of a single-car accident.
Then he saw the woman passerby struggling to open the driver's door. He quickly pulled off the road to help.
Within the next few minutes, the car's engine caught fire and the three passersby would pull two people - a man and a woman - from the vehicle as flames advanced.
It was shortly after 6:30 a.m. And one of the car's occupants would not survive.
"We had just got the driver's door open, and the woman (driver) was worried about her grandson in the back," Davis said of the first few minutes after he stopped at the scene. "I was holding her hand."
The other man who came to the rescue, by then, had dialed 911.
And he and his wife were trying to open the back door of the car.
Davis said that as the driver talked, he held her hand. Her foot was lodged under the brake pedal, and she had multiple broken bones and chest pains.
In the back seat, she told Davis, was her 30-year-old grandson. He has Down's Syndrome. And she pleaded with the helpers to assist him first. And she worried aloud that her husband had just had surgery. She and her grandson were returning home from the hospital.
Then the danger intensified as what looked like steam pouring from the engine compartment "whooshed" into a full-fledged fire that threatened to engulf the car.
Davis said that in a race to beat the flames threatening to spread to the car's compartment, he worked to dislodge the driver's broken ankle from under the brake pedal. He pulled her out as the flames gained strength, and he dragged her to his own car, since she was unable to walk.
Then he headed back to the wrecked car to see if he could help bring out the grandson.
He didn't need to.
The woman rescuer was already in the back seat, Davis said, struggling to get the grandson out.
With flames advancing, Davis said the other man had jumped in to help. Both were able to pull the grandson free about the time the ambulance and police arrived.
Citrus Heights Police Officer Jon Kempf, department spokesman, said later that one person in the car later died and the other was being treated at a local hospital with injuries.
He said he considers the efforts of the three people who stopped to help heroic.
"Without that," Kempf said, "they would have perished in the fire."