California Teacher Rescues Toddler From Burning Car

Mar 20, 2012 1:20pm

The California teacher who rescued a toddler from a burning car in the pickup lane of her elementary school says the experience was “like a movie,” one whose ending she feared could have been far worse.

Second grade teacher Elaine Johnson was directing students after dismissal on an otherwise routine Monday afternoon at Cameron Ranch Elementary School in Carmichael, Calif., near Sacramento, when an unusual sight caught her eyes.

A Toyota 4Runner SUV was on fire in the school’s pickup lane.  The SUV, driven by a father of  students at the school, had ignited in flames after hitting a speed bump around 3 p.m., according to local affiliate KXTV.

Johnson, witnesses say, was the first to respond.

“[Elaine Johnson] just went over there and ripped the door open,” fellow teacher Judy Dronberger told KXTV.  “There was fire everywhere, leaping at the sides of the car, all around, flames coming from underneath.”

Inside the car were the parent and two children, both said to be toddler-aged.

“I tried to get the toddler out of the car,” Johnson said. ”I couldn’t get the seat belt open. I saw the dad struggling with his seatbelt. Then someone came up beside me and got the girl out. I got the little boy.”

The man who came to the aid of Johnson in the dramatic rescue was Kenneth, reported by KXTV to be a fellow parent, who was leaving the school office when he saw the little girl stuck in the car and grabbed her from the car door that Johnson had swung open.

“I turned and saw a truck on fire,” he told KXTV.  “The door was open. I ran over and grabbed her.”

Four other good Samaritans, including a school custodian, used fire extinguishers to put out the fire.  Everyone involved in the blaze escaped injury.

“I’m a little shaken. I don’t handle adrenaline very well,” Johnson said of the experience. “It was like a movie. You expected it to explode. You expected it to blow up.”

Witnesses at the scene said the SUV appeared to be leaking some sort of gas or liquid before it struck the speed bump, possible causing the fire, KXTV reported.

Johnson was not able to respond to requests for comment placed today by ABCNews.com because she was back in the classroom teaching her students.

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