RONKONKOMA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Smoke and flames didn’t stop two men from risking their own lives to save another man during rush hour Wednesday night on the Long Island Expressway.
A car was consumed by flames, but its driver survived, thanks to the courage of strangers. CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff spoke exclusively Thursday with the man they rescued.
“He couldn’t slow down. He went right through the fence and hit the tree,” Joe Desena said.
Desena, who lives in Ronkonkoma, witnessed the crash on the LIE service road. The driver was trapped as fire and smoke billowed from the hood.
“I run up to the car and see him slumped over unconscious, like almost in the passenger seat. I see the fire. I realize I gotta get this guy out, gotta break the window and get him out. The doors were locked,” Desena said.
Seconds before the vehicle erupted into a fireball, Desena said he grabbed his tire iron and pounded away.
“I hit the window about 20 times. It didn’t break. So I ran back to the car got the floor jack out,” Desena said.
That did the trick. Desena then dragged the driver out of the burning car to safety.
Sanjeev Verma, who was moonlighting as an Uber driver, also stepped in to help with only seconds to spare.
“One-hundred percent he was going to die, within 30 seconds. If we no took action, he was going to die. As a good American citizen, you should stop if you see an accident happen, help everyone, save a life,” Verma said.
Fire officials called the brave men heroes, a title seconded by Desena’s mother.
“He did a scary thing but a very good thing. He saved somebody’s life,” Linda Desena said.
The 29-year-old driver was released from the hospital with broken ribs. He was reluctant to speak on camera, but eternally grateful.
“Joe, thank you, man. It’s the holiday season. You gave me back to my family,” he said. “You are a hero. You ran into a fire. I can’t tell you how many people would do that.”
Joe Desena, a 30-year-old security guard, said risking his own life to save a stranger was his first and only reaction.
“It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing,” he said. “Once I saw that fire, there was no turning back. I had to get him out of that car. I didn’t want to see the guy burn alive.”
Joe Desena walked away from the inferno with some burn holes in his pants and a scratch on his hand. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again.
Back in July, a driver died in a car fire near that same stretch of LIE service road.