When a big rig crossed into oncoming traffic along a San Diego highway Wednesday, two girls were inside one of the cars involved in the crash.
Heartland Fire & Rescue Department firefighter paramedic Ryan Lopez scooped up one of them - an uninjured 4-year-old - and held her in his arms as he carried her away from the wreckage where her mother and sister were being treated for injuries.
Chopper NBC 7 captured the touching moment as Lopez, clad in all of his rescue gear, held the girl in his arms and gently rocked her side to side.
The child's tiny white sandals could be seen on the front of his jacket as she rested her head on his shoulder. Lopez carried her over to a fire engine and eventually put her down to give her a drink of water. The child was soon back in his arms, once again resting her head on the firefighter’s shoulder.
On Friday, NBC 7 got a chance to speak to Lopez about the moment and how he feels about being hailed a hero in the middle of such a tragedy.
Lopez said he's just learning to be a dad to his 2-month-old daughter but he knew what to do right away.
Once he determined the girl was not seriously injured, he did the next job which he knew was going to be the most important for this young patient - just comforting her.
He talked with her, showing her tools on his jacket and parts of the fire engine.
"She really just wanted to hang on and just feel safe," he said.
Lopez considers what he did Wednesday to be a routine part of the job. It's something any other first responder would have done, he said.
"It's not something I would ever seek out to take any recognition for," he said. "I know someone else in my same position would've done the same thing."
According to the California Highway Patrol, the driver of the big rig lost control on southbound State Route 125 at the transition to westbound Interstate 8 and crushed a metal guardrail on the freeway. The driver then crossed into traffic lanes on northbound SR-125 before crashing into a concrete divider wall.
The big rig also crashed into a family inside a black Kia Sorrento: two adults and two little girls, ages 4 and 6.
The 6-year-old suffered a broken neck and was having trouble breathing. She was rushed to Rady Children’s Hospital.
The 4-year-old helped by Lopez suffered minor injuries.
The mother of the girls and another family member were inside the black SUV. The mother suffered minor injuries but was able to ride in the ambulance with her 6-year-old as that child was rushed to the hospital, paramedics told NBC 7.
CHP spokesman Kevin Pearlstein said the 4-year-old girl was in a car seat at the time of the collision, but the 6-year-old was not restrained in a booster seat.
The female driver of the big rig and a male passenger in the big rig suffered moderate injuries in the crash.
CHP Officer Ben Demarest said Thursday that the driver of the big rig was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the deadly accident.
There was a dashboard camera inside the big rig and authorities are hoping to be able to extract that footage to get more details on what happened in the moments leading to the collision.
Demarest said additional details are forthcoming, as investigators gather more information.