When Mark Pembleton, a U.S. Navy veteran, saw a semi-truck violently swerving on Route 28 last week in Loudoun County, Virginia, he knew something was seriously wrong.
Things took a turn for the worse when the vehicle overturned and caught fire.
“I pulled over on the side of the road and was right behind it,” Pembleton told WTOP. “It was already fully engulfed in flames.”
The semi driver knew he was in trouble and called out to anyone who might be able to hear him, Pembleton explained.
“I heard the driver yelling for help,” Pembleton said. “He was screaming ‘I have kids, please help me.'”
Pembleton was going to call 911, but there was no time to waste.
He decided he would put his own life and safety at risk in order to help the man get out of the burning vehicle.
“I put down my phone, went around the truck and saw him on fire, crawling through his windshield at me,” Pembleton said.
The flames were intense, and Pembleton couldn’t pull the driver out immediately.
“All I could do was grab him,” Pembleton said. “I would pull back as far as I could, and then I would retreat for a few seconds and then come back.”
Eventually, Pembleton did get the driver out, but both of them were injured.
“I looked down on my arms and saw how burned they were,” Pembleton said. “The skin looked like it was melted off.”
Pembleton will now be recovering for the next six weeks or so from serious burns on his arms and head.
“If it was any hotter, I don’t think I could have done it, because it was right at the point of where I thought I would instantly burst into flames,” Pembleton said.
Two patients with burn injuries were evaluated on the scene, according to Loudoun County fire officials, and a total of four patients were taken to hospitals.
Investigators said the driver of a car had caused the crash by hitting the semi.
The driver was identified as 18-year-old Jose Padilla Espinosa. He was arrested after authorities said he had forged tags and was driving without insurance.