A San Diego County Sheriff's deputy who saved a woman trapped inside a smoking car — seconds before it went up in flames — said his instinct and training took over.
SDSO Deputy Steve Gusman, an 11-year-veteran with the department, was driving back to the North Coastal substation Sunday morning when he passed what looked like a cloud of fog on Manchester Avenue.
The deputy stopped his car and got out to investigate. He told NBC 7 San Diego that, on closer examination, he realized it was a smoking car: A Honda Civic that had gone off the right side of the road, into a marsh area.
Gusman said because it was so dark and the car was filled with smoke, he couldn't tell if anyone was inside.
At the time, he saw only a glow underneath the vehicle, not flames.
He couldn’t see the passenger through the smoke, but heard a woman, who appeared to be in shock, saying she couldn’t move.
"That's why I just called out and I was actually very surprised when I heard somebody respond, because I couldn't see," Gusman recalled. "I just yelled out, 'Sheriff's Department.' I heard someone yell out, 'Oh my God, thank God you're here.'"
The driver could communicate, but she couldn't move — and that's when, Gusman said, his instinct and training took over.
"At that point, I just pulled her out," Gusman said. "I tried to escort her out, but wasn't able to, she couldn't move, so just natural instinct, I threw her over my shoulder. We had to get out of there."
Deputy Gusman got the woman out of the car, placed her over his shoulder and carried her over the embankment – just moments before the car became engulfed in flames.
“Training kicks in. You don't think about stuff like that," Gusman said. "It's muscle memory."
The woman had no injuries, deputies reported, and there were no other passengers in the car.
“Every officer would have done the same thing. I know that as a fact. It was just my time I happen to be there,” Gusman said.
He was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
The woman was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol and booked into the Vista Detention Facility.