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Truck Driver, Off-Duty Cop Pull Two Women From Burning Car

November 15, 1986

LAFAYETTE, Calif. (AP) _ An off-duty policeman and a truck driver pulled two women from a burning car just seconds before it exploded into a fireball, saving the women’s lives, police said.

Had it not been for the heroism of Oakland Officer Jeff Ferguson and truck driver Richard Straub, the women would have died in the accident Friday, said Lafayette police and the California Highway Patrol.

The car’s driver, Deborah Lynn Navarrete, 18, of Pittsburg, was in serious condition at Brookside Hospital with head injuries and burns over 30 percent of her body.

Her passenger, Sheryl Onopchenko, 18, of Concord, was in serious condition at John Muir Hospital with a fractured pelvis and lacerations to her head, arms and legs.

Ferguson, 26, was treated for burns on his right hand and arm.

Witnesses told the highway patrol that the car began fishtailing and went out of control, hitting a shoulder guardrail. The impact caused it to climb partially up a pole and flip back over onto the freeway. It came to rest on its top in the middle of traffic, with flames just starting to come out of the hood.

Ferguson, who had just gotten off work, said he saw the wreckage and pulled off the road to help. Straub, 45, stopped to help, and sprayed the overturned car with his fire extinguisher until it ran out of foam.

″Once the truck stopped, I didn’t think about anything except to get the passengers out,″ Ferguson said.

Ferguson said when he got to the car, the door was stuck, so he used a knife to cut Onopchenko free and drag her to safety on the road shoulder. In a few seconds, the flames had set Navarrete’s clothes on fire.

With Straub’s help, Ferguson pulled her out and both men put the flames out with their hands.

Within a few seconds, the car blew up and shot flames 15 feet into the sky, Ferguson said.

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