There’s probably a list laying around somewhere of things that parents forbid their adult children from doing. Somewhere near the top of that list is an unstated mandate to avoid stopping your car in the middle of traffic on a busy highway to run across spilled diesel fuel and save a complete stranger. Luckily, 22-year-old Keenia Williams doesn’t have time to be afraid. And because of it, she’s a hero.
Shortly after 5am last Wednesday, Williams was driving along San Francisco’s highway 101 on her way to work. She was traveling with her young daughter when she looked into her rearview mirror and saw that a big rig truck had suddenly burst into flames. Moments earlier, a driver lost control of their small passenger car and crashed into a guard rail, and then another car. Michael Finerty, 52, was driving the big rig truck that was filled with dry cement when he swerved to avoid the initial crash. Finerty’s truck ended up swerving across the highway and crashing on its side, spilling gallons of diesel fuel along the way before bursting into flames.
Williams had to act quickly. Without giving it a second thought, she left her 5-year-old daughter in the car and ran to help Finerty, who had by then collapsed just feet from the burning truck.
"I just see the (driver of the truck) and oh, my God, I hop out, run, see the guy just sitting there," Williams later told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He’s like standing between the fire. He passes out. And now I am like, ‘Oh, my God, oh, my God.’"
Williams saw that unless someone did something, Finerty was sure to die.
"I put my arms under his arms and I dragged him all the way to my car," Williams told the Chronicle. "He wasn’t talking or anything. He was just laying there." While they waited for emergency personnel to arrive, Williams splashed water on Finerty’s face until he regained consciousness.
San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White was impressed. "You left your daughter and, at a great risk to yourself, you saved a man’s life," she told Williams at a news conference following the accident. Hayes-White added: "Seconds count in an accident like this, and without your bravery, the situation would have been entirely different."
Finerty was taken to a local hospital where he was treated for minor injuries and then released. Luckily, he was the only person who was injured in the accident, and there were no fatalities.
The truck driver hasn’t had a chance to personally thank the woman who saved his life, but the city’s police chief is trying to arrange a meeting.
"When he was going away (in the ambulance), he kept asking for my name," Williams said. "He was telling me he would never (forget) me, and for somebody to say that when they don’t even know me, wow."
And as for all that hero talk, Williams humbly shrug it off. "I think I watch too much TV," she said about her motivations. "If that was me, I would want somebody to stop and save my life."
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