The man is recovering in a Santa Ana hospital. Deputies Shayne Stiefel and Gilbert Lascurain were on routine patrol in Yorba Linda around 2:30 a.m. last Thursday. Dashcam video shows the deputies approaching a burning minivan taxicab with their guns drawn and screaming out, "Get out of the car!"
The driver's foot was on the accelerator. The wheels were spinning, but the pole he crashed into kept him from going anywhere.
"A million things [were] going through our minds at that time. Is this guy going to try to flee? Or is he going to try to harm us if we approach?" said Stiefel. "The driver was incoherent but looking around, like trying to light a cigarette."
Two other deputies arrived to help as the flames grew and the black smoke thickened.
"When I initially made the decision that we got to get him out of the car, when I walked up and opened the door, there were flames in the passenger seat. At that point, it was cut the safety belt and drag the guy out," said Stiefel.
About 20 seconds after deputies dragged the victim across the street to safety, flames engulfed the entire vehicle.
"We saw the big puffs of smoke going up and flames going up," said witness John Sack of Yorba Linda. "The guy was so fortunate that the timing was there, because otherwise the guy would have just probably burned to death in that car."
Authorities said they later learned the 49-year-old driver had suffered a medical emergency, possibly diabetic shock, when he crashed.
"It kept me awake the whole night thinking about what would have happened if we showed up, you know, 10 or 15 seconds later," said Stiefel.