The Mercury News
A trio of San Jose police officers are being hailed as heroes for rescuing a 56-year-old homeless man from a burning van earlier this month.
On the evening of July 9, officers were dispatched to the One World Montessori School at 1170 Foxworthy Ave. for a report of a man who was yelling and throwing things in a rear parking lot, according to San Jose police Officer Gina Tepoorten.
Tepoorten said the man was standing near a van when patrol Officers Chris Pirelli and Tim Wright and reserve Officer Gregory Wharton arrived at the address. He ignored their requests to step away from the vehicle, which they suddenly realized was on fire.
The man tried to climb into the van and grabbed onto a tire, according to Tepoorten.
“Our perception was, he was having some kind of mental health crisis and clearly was not thinking about his own safety,” said Wright in an interview with ABC7 News, this news organization’s media partner.
With the man refusing to loosen his grip, Wharton drew and fired his Taser at the man, which caused him to let go, Tepoorten said. The officers then dragged the man to safety as flames engulfed the vehicle.
One of the officers wrote in a report that a “large explosion erupted from within the van, blowing out the van’s windows and buckling the van’s roof,” according to Tepoorten.
“These officers risked their lives to help this individual,” said Tepoorten, adding that there were propane tanks inside the van.
The San Jose Fire Department extinguished the fire and the man was taken to a hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation and burns to his hands, according to Tepoorten.
The man was cited for resisting the officers and placed on a psychiatric hold. Police declined to identify the man and an update on his condition was not immediately available.
San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia praised the actions of his officers in a tweet Wednesday. He also posted images of the rescue, taken from Wright’s body-mounted camera.
“As chief, I have the honor of working with these men and women,” Garcia said in the tweet. “This is why I love those who put on this uniform and run head-on, and not away, from the unknown dangers of each day! These pictures needed to be shared.”
In an interview with ABC7 News, Pirelli said, “We just want the community to know that we’re here for everybody, unhoused, people with mental health issues, the rest of the community.”
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