November 2, 2017

Employee rescues driver from burning car

Kaiser Permanente Santa Cruz orthopedic technician Chris Amos put his own safety aside to help an unresponsive motorist

On his drive to work one recent morning, Chris Amos, an orthopedic technician at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Cruz County, witnessed a head-on collision between a motorcycle and a car on Highway 17.

As the car began burning, Amos, pulled over and rushed to get the driver out. He is credited with saving her life, as other drivers attended to the motorcyclist.

As an orthopaedic technician at Kaiser Permanente, Chris Amos prepares splints and casts for injured members, skills that he didn’t use at the Highway 17 accident.

photo of Kaiser Permanente employee Chris Amos Chris Amos

“The instinct to help just kind of kicked in,” he said.

No response from driver

“I was right behind the woman’s car heading south on 17, just south of the Summit,” Amos said. “It’s a dangerous area where there’s no center divider. The motorcyclist was actually heading northbound, but he veered across the center line and hit the woman’s car head-on.”

The motorcycle virtually exploded on impact, tossing the driver over the roof of the woman’s car. The man was able to get up and sit on the side of the highway.

“I pulled over and saw the woman’s car had started burning, but she wasn’t getting out,” said Amos, “so I got out of my car and ran to her. I pulled open the back door on the passenger side and tried to talk to the woman, who was motionless behind the wheel. The car’s airbags covered her. I asked her if she was okay and she didn’t respond.”

Seeing the flames in the front of her car growing, Amos reached across the seat and jostled her shoulder. She seemed to snap awake.

“I kept on saying she had to get out of the car, but she wasn’t moving, so I got out and walked around to the front,” said Amos. “As the flames grew, I was able to pull open the front door, move the airbags out of the way, and finally lead the woman gently from the car. She seemed like she was in shock.”

Amos led her to the side of the road, where she sat down and started crying. Another motorist stopped by and tried to comfort the woman while Amos checked on the motorcyclist.

“He was breathing and said he was in pain,” said Amos. At that point, yet another motorist stopped by to check on the motorcyclist. “It was a woman who said she was a nurse, so I figured the motorcyclist was in good hands.”

Right place, right time

Amos stayed around the scene and gave statements to the highway patrol and the fire department, but as firefighters cared for the woman, he had to leave for work.

By the time he arrived, his colleagues, doctors, and nurses, were already talking about his actions at the accident.

Amos thanked everyone for the congratulations and pats on the back, but he shrugged and said, “I was the right person at the right place at the right time.”

“When he arrived here after literally saving that woman’s life, Chris picked up and went right back to caring for our members,” said Brenda George, RN, managing director of the Kaiser Permanente Santa Cruz clinics.

What impressed his colleagues even more was his focus on rescuing the driver from the burning car — without thinking about his own safety.

“We all hope that we can do the right thing in an emergency, but to be honest, we just don’t know until we’re tested,” said Joyce Orndorff, MD, assistant physician in chief of Kaiser Permanente in Santa Cruz County.

“He did the right thing, in an emergency situation, selflessly, without regard for his own safety,” Dr. Orndorff said. “We’re all proud to work with Chris.”