LAPD Officer Don Thompson in KTLA photo
I was driving with my family to the Valley on Christmas Day — a little bit late already — when the northbound 405 stopped. All lanes, slammed. We were able to slide off onto Sepulveda and take the pass through the tunnel, and figured we were fortunate to get out of the worst of it. There had to be something bad on the freeway to shut the 405 on what is usually a light holiday passage over the mountains. The story of what actually happened is pretty apt for Christmas, as it turns out.
A 72-year-old man driving north on the freeway, on the downhill side of Sepulveda Pass where everybody starts to speed toward Sherman Oaks, had spun out of control. His black Mercedes-Benz station wagon hit the sound wall on the right side of the freeway, then careened across all lanes to smash into the center divider and erupt in flames. Luckily for the injured driver, LAPD officer Don Thompson was driving to work on the southbound side of the freeway. The 26-year veteran, currently assigned to the bomb squad, spotted the wreck.
LAPD spokesman Lt. Andy Neiman in the Daily News:
Thompson pulled over to the center median, jumped over the wall, opened the station wagon’s door and saw a man unconscious in the driver’s seat.
“The fire was starting to spread inside the passenger compartment,” Neiman said...“He was able to cut the seatbelt with his knife, pulled the gentleman out of the vehicle and two citizens who also stopped came up and also assisted in pulling the driver further away from the vehicle.”
Although he wasn’t on duty yet, Thompson was in his bomb squad truck and uniform at the time, Neiman said. Thompson sustained first and second degree burns, abrasions to his hands and knees and suffered from smoke inhalation during the rescue. Thompson was treated at the scene and then taken to an urgent care facility for his serious injuries.
“Nobody would have survived that vehicle based on what the Fire Department observed when they arrived,” Neiman said. “It truly is a Christmas Day miracle. It’s the best gift that Officer Thompson and the gentleman in that car could have received that day.”
Witnesses and the LAFD said the same thing: Save to Officer Thompson. The driver of the Mercedes, by the way, has been booked on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was lucky in another way. An off-duty Los Angeles Fire Department battalion chief was also passing by on the southbound 405 Freeway, stopped and guided fire trucks and paramedics in how to reach the wreckage.