A Good Samaritan who helped pull a woman from a deadly wreck on Interstate 15 in San Diego said he could see the panic on her face as minutes ticked before the car exploded into flames.
"I could see she was in shock and she was holding her chest; she couldn't breathe,” Jose Aguilera, of Murrieta, California, told NBC 7 over the phone Wednesday night. “The flames were like, oh man, they were like 15 to 20 feet high, I would say. They just burst like a bomb.”
Aguilera was one of several Good Samaritans who witnessed a deadly crash on northbound I-15 at Miramar Road just after midnight Wednesday.
The California Highway Patrol said Jeffrey Levi, 37, suspected of driving under the influence, rear-ended a Toyota carrying siblings Jesus David Dominguez, 33, and Jiovanna Dominguez, 18, and Jiovanna Dominguez’s boyfriend, Isaac Felix, 19.
The Toyota, unable to move, stayed in the middle of the lanes on the freeway and, seconds later, an off-duty San Diego Police Department (SDPD) officer on his way home from work in an unmarked SUV, crashed into the Toyota.
Aguilera and his family, on their way home to Murrieta, happened upon the crash. Aguilera said the Toyota was smoking and he could see the three people inside were disoriented and desperate for help.
He knew he had to stop to help.
Aguilera and two other Good Samaritans, including Todd Holdren, pulled over and ran to the Toyota. They noticed Jiovanna Dominguez in the front passenger seat clutching her chest and pulled on the car door and tried to smash windows to get her out.
The car was beginning to burn.
"It was a team effort,” Aguilera told NBC 7. “Everyone was just trying to do something to get those individuals that were in there waving their arms and desperately trying to get out of the vehicle."
The group was able to pull Jiovanna Dominguez to safety. The car then burst into flames and there was no going back to rescue Jesus David Dominguez or Felix.
Both men died at the scene.
Aguilera said he doesn’t consider himself a hero for helping when he was needed but is glad he was there in time to help save Jiovanna Dominguez.
“It was gratifying that this lady could walk out alive,” he added.
The family of that young woman, including her sister, Tiere Cano, is also grateful for Aguilera and the Good Samaritans.
“Thank God my sister’s alive,” Tiere Cano told NBC 7 Wednesday. “Someone saved her life and I want to thank whoever saved her life, whoever pulled her out, because if it wasn’t for that person, my sister would be dead right now.”
Jiovanna Dominguez was taken to the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest where, overnight, she was in critical but stable condition. Her family said she suffered extensive injuries including second-degree burns to 20 percent of her body, a fractured neck, a collapsed lung, a broken femur and a broken bone near her eye. She is, however, expected to survive.
The SDPD officer involved in the crash suffered moderate injuries and was also hospitalized. His name was not immediately released.
As for Levi, he crashed his red Ford Mustang into a nearby ditch on I-15 following the collision and fled, but was soon arrested. Investigators said he was driving at 100 mph at the time of the crash.
Levi was booked into San Diego Central Jail on counts of first-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter and DUI. He is scheduled to appear in court Friday.
Jiovanna Dominguez’s brother-in-law, Jose Cano, told NBC 7 the deadly crash hits his family hard because they’ve already suffered so much loss. His sister died on New Year’s Eve from complications suffered from a stroke. The family had just picked out her gravesite and now, they have to attend two more funerals.
“It’s traumatic. We’re all still in shock. You have moments where you break down but, as of now, what can you do?” Jose Cano told NBC 7. “They’re gone and you’re just left with nothing but questions.”
The Dominguez siblings had also lost their mother five months ago to cancer and were still coping with her death.
“Everything’s hitting all at once,” Jose Cano said. “When it rains, it pours.”
Jose Cano said Jesus David Dominguez leaves behind two children, a 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, and his wife, Samantha Munoz.
"I'm heartbroken," his widow told NBC 7. "I have nothing to look at my husband at, but photos."
"It hurts to know that my niece and my nephew are not gonna have their dad around no more," Tiere Cano added. "That's what really really hurts the most."
An online fundraising page has been created to help the family of the victim’s killed and hurt in this crash. To donate, click here.