Morgan Hill resident Jose Perez was simply hoping he could “help somebody out” when he stopped on the side of a busy highway in January 2017 to check on the victims of a fiery traffic accident that happened right before his eyes.
His actions saved two Los Banos residents from burning to death as he and another passing motorist pulled them to safety with flames beginning to engulf the victims’ vehicle, according to police. At a ceremony April 23 at the California Highway Patrol office in Gilroy, Perez was officially hailed a hero by police and South County’s elected state legislature officials.
Perez attended the April 23 ceremony with his wife, Marie, and two teenage sons, Javen and Silas. CHP Commdr. Scott Parker presented Perez with the CHP’s Medal of Distinction—a rare honor—for his heroic efforts.
Perez described what happened, and what he was thinking when he witnessed the head-on collision during a rainy afternoon Jan. 21, 2017. He was traveling eastbound on State Route 152, just east of San Felipe Road in east Gilroy, when a Ford F150 pickup traveling in front of him “just exploded.”
The pickup collided head-on with a Mercedes that was traveling westbound on State Route 152, Perez said. The pickup veered to the right shoulder, hit a guardrail and came to a stop just off the roadway. The Mercedes went abruptly to the other side of the road before coming to a stop.
“My first thought, I figured there were major injuries, and somebody was hurt,” Perez told media assembled at the April 23 ceremony. “I was able to weave through the debris and not hit anything. I came to a stop and dialed 911.”
Perez, who was traveling alone, exited his vehicle and approached the accident scene, “to see if there was anything I could do.”
“As I was running toward (the truck), I saw an orange flame coming out of the engine compartment, so I knew it was going to catch on fire eventually,” he continued. “I went to the (passenger’s) side, and couldn’t get that door open. I went to the driver’s side and that’s when the engine compartment just exploded in flames.”
With the help of the other passing motorist, Vidal Flores, he was able to remove the two unconscious occupants of the Ford—a man and a woman—out of the vehicle and safely away from the flames.
“It happened so fast,” Perez said.
Perez did not know Flores at the time. Flores, a Lake Elsinore resident, has also been recognized by CHP as a hero. Flores will also receive a Medal of Distinction at a separate ceremony closer to his home, Parker said.
“I knew they were unconscious, and they were not going to get out on their own,” Perez said. “The last thing in the world I wanted to see was those two people burn.”
One of two occupants of the Mercedes died in the collision, according to Perez and the CHP.
Perez grew up in the Salinas area and has lived in Morgan Hill with his family for about 18 months. His sons attend high school in Gilroy.
The son of migrant workers, Perez flies corporate jets for a living. He told the media that his parents instilled “hard work and helping others” into his and his six brothers’ upbringing.
“I was hoping I could help somebody out,” Perez said quietly and humbly of why he decided to help the 2017 accident victims.
Perez’ wife, Marie, said she is proud of her husband for the actions he took.
“I’m extremely thankful that he’s OK and he was able to save those two people from that truck,” Marie Perez said. “It’s so unfortunate that there was a fatality at the scene, but it could have been worse.”
The CHP certificate awarded to Perez April 23 also describes the accident. The description notes it was a three-car collision. The third vehicle was a 2012 Scion.
“Absent your selfless actions, the occupants trapped inside of the burning Ford would not have survived,” reads the certificate. “You are commended for your heroic actions, which saved the lives of two motorists.”
Parker said the couple saved by Perez and Flores are “doing well.”
Parker added that in his 20-year career with the CHP, he has never seen anyone receive the CHP’s Medal of Distinction.
In addition to the CHP recognition, Alexander Pittaro of Sen. Bill Monning’s office and Pricilla Orona of Assemblymember Anna Caballero’s office presented Perez with certificates of commendation.