For Palisadian businessman Jim Blumel, Tuesday, April 27 started off as another busy day. By 12:30 p.m., he was on his way from the Santa Clarita Valley office of his business, Sunset Landscaping, to an appointment in Calabasas. Heading southbound on the I-5, Blumel was going about 60 to 70 miles per hour when he saw a big-rig truck on fire, coming at him from the northbound lanes. ”’There was no way off the freeway,’ Blumel said in an interview with the Palisadian-Post. ‘When the truck stopped [in the right southbound lane], I was 100 ft. away.’ ”The big-rig’s driver, Jos’ Sanchez, was transporting 24 tons of municipal waste when his truck crashed through a guardrail and hit a parked truck full of hazardous materials. ”’We think [Jos’s truck] blew a front tire,’ said Sanchez’s manager at Ecology Autoparts, Saul Gracian, who arrived at the scene 30 to 45 minutes after the accident. ‘When the truck came to a stop, it was hanging off a 45-ft. embankment, with flames coming out of the sides of the truck.’ ”The truck’s compartment separated from the trailer and Sanchez could see the fire inside the cab. ‘I thought I wasn’t going to live,’ he said, recalling that he tried unsuccessfully to open both doors but couldn’t get out. ”Blumel automatically started running towards the big-rig. ‘I saw [Sanchez] trying to get out and the adrenaline kicked in. I could hear people saying, ‘Don’t go near it, it’s gonna blow!’ but once I’d committed to running, I couldn’t stop.”’ ”Sanchez later told Gracian that when he heard Blumel’s voice, he went toward the sound, though he felt disoriented. Blumel, 6’2” and 195 lbs., had to stand on the passenger side step to reach Sanchez, who is 5’9” and 230 lbs., and help him out of the window. ‘He pushed and I pulled,’ Blumel says. ‘I was telling him to jump and I’d catch him.’ ”When Sanchez made it through the window, Blumel took him over to his car, where he gave him water and waited with him until the police and firemen arrived at the scene. ‘He was in shock,’ Blumel said. ‘I gave him my card in case he had any questions about the accident later.’ Blumel also gave his name and contact information directly to the police. ”While no other drivers stopped to help, a few came up to Blumel afterwards. ‘They said, ‘I can’t believe you did that.” ”Blumel, age 39, says, ‘You always wonder how you’ll react in situations like that. When it counted, I stood up’I was the right person at the right time in the right place.’ ”According to Gracian, Sanchez, who has been with Ecology Autoparts for two years, returned to work on Monday, May 3. ‘What Jim did was really extraordinary,’ Gracian said. ‘He’s kind of like an unsung hero.’ Blumel and his wife, Jill, have three young daughters. ”Sanchez, 52, has four children, ages 11 to 33. Daughters Carmen Raman and Roxanna Sanchez have written thank-you notes to Blumel. Raman wrote: ‘My family and I would like to thank you sincerely for everything you did to help (encourage) my dad to get out of the burning truck. We honestly believe that if it wasn’t for you, my dad would have panicked and might not have made it out.’ Sanchez wrote: ‘Most people would have kept on driving…I don’t know what I would do without my Dad and without your help.’ ”(Additional reporting by LIBBY MOTIKA)
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