Written by DJ Becker —
MADERA COUNTY — A Madera man was lauded as a hero by The California Highway Patrol for his lifesaving efforts after pulling a woman and her two young children to safety when their SUV overturned and caught fire the afternoon of Oct. 7, 2015, in a solo vehicle crash on State Route 99.
Kirk Cardoso, 33, received the CHP Community Service Certificate award on Wednesday, Apr. 13, at a luncheon held in his honor and hosted by Madera CHP Commander Lt. Mark Kairis.
“We are here to honor a man who selflessly gave of himself in a time of need,” said Kairis. “Unable to free themselves, Cardoso’s swift thinking and actions prevented this family’s serious injury or death.”
(Photo – A somber Kirk Cardoso, center, hugs a tearful Codee Cardoza, the woman he saved from a burning, overturned SUV last October. Cardoso received a community service award on Wednesday from CHP Lt. Mark Kairis for his efforts to assist the family. Also pictured are Paiden (PJ) Anderson, and Ethan Anderson, who were also pulled from the burning vehicle – photo by DJ Becker).
Cardoso, said he was headed northbound on SR-99, when he saw a cloud of dust just south of Avenue 12 and watched in shock as an SUV flipped and rolled into the concrete rail on the opposite side of the highway, and landed upside down.
“I pulled over, crossed the freeway [on foot] and jumped the divider,” Cardoso said. “As I came around the vehicle I saw the undercarriage catching on fire already. I heard a woman, Codee, screaming ‘get my kids, get my kids!’ The doors wouldn’t open. I looked in and saw a two-year-old in his car seat struggling to get out.”
Cardoso says he could smell the gas pouring out and knew there was no time to waste.
“Thankfully a cool, calming feeling came over me, and I was able to get the child restraints off him and pull him out from under the car and ran him back to safety along the center divider.”
No one else had yet stopped to help, said Cardoso, so he could only plead with the boy to stay still and out of traffic while he returned to try and help the others he knew were still pinned inside the burning vehicle.
“As I ran back, the driver, Codee, was trying to jump up and out of the passengers side window but she couldn’t make it out on her own. I knew there was no time to waste. So I hopped on top of the vehicle and reached in and grabbed her by the back of her pants, told her to jump and pulled.”
By this time two other men had stopped, and managed to pull 9-year-old PJ out of the vehicle, and helped Cardoso catch her as she fell.
“No sooner than we got 20 to 30 feet away, the car became fully engulfed in flames,” said Cardoso. “It was nothing short of a miracle. Thank God, and the people that were around me that everybody got out in time. There was nothing left of the vehicle when the fire truck arrived a few minutes later.”
Cardoso said he had no formal EMS or emergency training but by some miracle he was just in the right place at the right time, and was still a little shaken by the life or death incident.
Cardoso also credited the influence and life example of his recently deceased father in law, long time volunteer firefighter captain Frank Verduzco of Madera County Fire Station 11, as guiding his thoughts and actions that day in saving the family.
“I know he was there, somehow,” Cardoso said, blinking back tears. “That amount of fuel spilling, with an open flame. There was definitely a guardian angel there, holding back those flames that day.”
Though he is grateful for the outcome, Cardoso said he had wished more people would have stopped and taken action to help them.
“It was a terrible situation. Traffic didn’t even stop,” he said. “It breaks my heart that quite a few other people chose to stand idly by and record the situation, rather than help. But I just couldn’t bear to watch people go like that. It was just instinct, I guess. I did what I would do for anybody, and hope they would do for me or my family in a time of need.”
The driver of the 2005 Nissan Xterra, Codee Cardoza, 29, of Clovis, said the crash was a blur and she briefly blacked out from the force of the rollover.
“I swerved to avoid the back of a semi trailer, lost control, and next thing I know we were upside down against the concrete rail. Shattered glass was everywhere. Time just stood still, and I could smell the gas. It was hard not to panic. But without the actions of Kirk and the two others who stopped to help him, there’s no doubt in my mind, my two kids and I wouldn’t be here today. He‘s definitely a hero to us,” Cardoza said gratefully.
The incident was recorded and photographed by many bystanders with cell phones and then widely posted on Facebook, which apparently is a new, but annoying sign of our times, Cardoza said.
“I wish more people in our communities could be like Kirk, stepping up and helping in a time of need, instead of sticking cell phones in people’s faces in situations like this,” she said.
Codee and her kids used to live in Oakhurst, where her daughter still goes almost every day for the cheerleading practice they signed up for before moving to Clovis, where Codee is in training to be an EMT.
All those involved in the incident escaped without injuries.
To read the original story on this crash, go to https://sierranewsonline.com/just-a-regular-day-man-saves-family-from-burning-wreck/