San Jose resident Ryan Pruitt was one of a handful of civilians who tried to rescue crash victim Robert Capurro from his car shortly after Capurro's Chevrolet Blazer hit a big rig truck on Highway 92 Wednesday afternoon near Skyline Blvd., leaving him trapped.
California Highway Patrol Officer Art Montiel said that the accident happened at around 2:17 p.m.
Capurro, a 68-year-old Redwood City resident, died in his Chevrolet Blazer before a Lifeflight Helicopter could take him to the hospital for treatment. But before police and emergency help arrived, Pruitt tells of a group of civilian motorists who joined together in an effort to save Capurro -- and comfort him.
Pruitt was the third car behind the Chevrolet Blazer driving eastbound on Highway 92 when all of a sudden he said that he and the two motorists in front of him slammed on their brakes.
"It was this instantaneous thing," he said. "A big truck wheel just went flying across the road," he said.
According to the CHP Officer Montiel, Capurro's car crossed the line and hit the rear left wheel of the big rig traveling westbound.
Though Pruitt did not see the accident happen, as it took place around the corner from his car, he said he could smell it and hear it. "The impact was a blast...it kind of smelled like engine fumes, like strong radiator fluid," he said.
Pruitt said he saw the motorist in the car in front of him get out of her car and turn around, running towards him and the other motorists. "She was asking if there were any doctors or nurses to help," he said.
After a woman who Pruitt said was two or three cars behind him identified herself as a nurse, Pruitt immediately walked back to his truck and retrieved towels, blankets and a first aid kit. "As I walked toward the car I mentally prepared myself to tell the guy that he was going to be ok and to stay calm," he said.
When he rounded the corner and saw the Blazer, what he saw was "hard to describe," Pruitt said. "The door and the door behind him were really crumpled together," he said.
"He was pinned - the cavity of the car was crushed down pretty good...his legs were kind of crumpled in with the door of the car," Pruitt said. "His head had gone either through the windshield, or the side window...it was hard to tell," he said. "That [part of the car] went down and it was basically at his chest level. So from the chest up we had access," he said. "There was a lot of blood dripping down from that area onto the pavement," he said.
Pruitt said he also tried to see if there were other passengers in the car, but could not tell if this was the case. "If there was anyone in the passenger and back seat it would have been a loss," he said.
Pruitt said he wrapped the towels and blankets from his truck around Capurro to keep him warm. The nurse came up to try to assess Capurro's condition shortly after he (Pruitt) walked up, Pruitt said.
"It was hard to tell if he was conscious in any way, he didn't say anything, he didn't groan, his eyes were closed and kind of moving a little bit...not seizure-like, but slowly lifting an arm," Pruitt said.
"He tried to lean forward and the nurse was just instructing him 'Don't get up, don't get up.' I think she was pretty sure he wasn't going to make it, though she kept talking to him while at least several minutes went by," Pruitt said. "We couldn't see where the bleeding was coming from," he said. Pruitt said that the first aid kit was "useless" in the situation.
"The lady did the most help," Pruitt said of the nurse. "She was keeping the pressure on in one spot in his body. She had her arm kind of on his chest and his shoulder," he said.
"The nurse spoke softly and in a kind voice repeating 'Hi there, can you hear me? You are going to be ok. They are coming very soon,'" Pruitt said.
Pruitt said that there were three attempts to try to rescue Capurro from his car. "I was the first person to try to pull the door open but saw it how rigid it was...it was accordion-like," he said. "Then I went around to the other side and that was not going to work either..after that I just had my hand on his shoulder talking to him, and another guy got a pry bar from his truck to try to wedge and pry the doors apart," Pruitt said.
"He couldn't find a way to wedge the bar in," Pruitt said. "As he tried to wedge it [the effort] would push the metal door on to the guy and it looked like it was going to do more harm than good," Pruitt said. "The concern was he seemed to be mixed in with the metal and it seemed potentially dangerous to pull on him," he said. A pick ax was used as well, but was of no help either, Pruitt said.
After the second attempt to pry open the Blazer's doors, Pruitt said 15 minutes had gone by from when he and the other civilians first arrived to help, and at that time the nurse turned to him. "I said to her, 'Do you need a towel?' and she said to me 'There's no point anymore,' then she walked away," Pruitt said.
"I think he was alive for about 8 to 10 minutes [after the impact]," Pruitt said. "I believe that's why she walked away. I suspected that his lungs filled with blood -- there was a certain sound, kind of a gurgle, but blood didn't come out of his mouth," he said. "One guy was yelling 'He's choking,' but I didn't hear it that way," Pruitt said. "There was a bit of panic and chaos and I was trying to get people to back off and not yell," he said.
In the third attempt, Pruitt said, "several big guys were just jerking and pulling on the doors with all their might and it was impossible, it was kind of too late, 15-plus minutes after the crash," he said. "I backed away."
"I didn't even see the Lifeflight helicopter," Pruitt said. "I left when the first emergency cars got there, 20 minutes after [the crash]. CHP came from one direction."
Pruitt said he did a U-turn to leave, and after what he said was about a minute of driving, he checked the time. "It was 2:38 p.m.," he said. "I made a mental note of it," he said.
"She [the nurse] was very calm and sweet to the man. I never thanked her for her strength. We did what we could until he died," Pruitt said.
"I would like his [Capurro's] family to know he was not alone, and did not suffer," Pruitt said.
Although the Lifeflight helicopter did arrive at the scene, Capurro died before he could be airlifted to Stanford Hospital for treatment, according to the California Highway Patrol officer and spokesman Art Montiel.
To read the news story of the accident published after the crash, click .