California Highway Patrol officers rushed to help an unconscious man trapped in his car, reaching in and pulling him out of the wreck just as his vehicle caught fire.
The crash happened at approximately 3:30 a.m. Thursday when 21-year-old Vista resident Efren Mendoza was behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Jetta, driving west on State Route 78 near Woodland Parkway, at high speeds, officers said.
He drifted into the center median and collided with the center barrier wall, officers said.
The impact sent his car veering right across all freeway lanes and into a tree, where it overturned and landed on its roof adjacent to the frontage road of Rancheros Drive.
At the time, officers Gabe Morado and Russ Robertson were driving east of State Route 78 and saw the entire crash as it happened.
The officers called for medical assistance and turned around to respond to the crash.
“Had they not acted, had they not been there, had they not been able to respond at the time and manner that they did, this gentlemen could have lost his life,” CHP Spokesman Jim Bettencourt said.
Mendoza suffered severe injuries, including fractures to both legs, the officers discovered when they arrived.
Shortly after they arrived, the car started to catch fire.
The officers cut off the man's seat belt and pulled him out of the burning wreckage.
They provided medical care until paramedics arrived and transported him to Palomar Medical Center in Escondido.
“These officers were in the right place at the right time,” Bettencourt said.
Mendoza was treated for severe, but not life-threatening injuries.
He was arrested on suspicion of driving under the combined influence of alcohol and a drug(s), but was released to the hospital for urgent medical care.
“The second that that bottle touches your lips, your decision making skills go out the window,” Bettencourt said.
The collision remains under investigation.