Rich Rodriguez of Pilsen was so proud of his son, Jesse, for being a good Samaritan that he asked me to share the story.
He doesn’t think we do enough of that sort of thing, and he’s probably right.
Jesse Rodriguez, 22, of Hammond, Indiana, and his co-worker Mike Nieto, 30, were driving eastbound Monday on Interstate 94 near Lake Station, Indiana, when they spotted a vehicle off the side of the road in a water-filled ditch.
As other cars sped past or slowed and then drove off, the two men stopped, jumped out of their car and spotted the car’s elderly driver convulsed in an apparent seizure.
With the car in water nearly to the driver’s side door handle and the car’s engine smoking as the driver continued pressing on the gas pedal, they rushed to extract him from the car.
Nieto got stuck in the muck trying to cross the water and had to retreat, so Rodriguez looped around to the passenger side. With some difficulty, he opened the door and loosened the man’s seat belt.
Rodriguez saw that the man had hit his head when the car stopped.
“Then he stopped moving, so I thought he died for a minute there,” he told me Tuesday. But the driver hadn’t.
The car had come to rest on the top of a log that kept it from going even deeper into the water, Rodriguez said.
Fearing that the car’s perch was unstable and relying on some emergency first aid training he’d received for his job, Rodriguez said he carefully pulled the man across to the passenger side and tried to talk to him.
“He was not coherent,” Rodriguez said, adding that if the man he knows only as Jerry had tried to exit the car on his own, “he would have went in the water and drowned.”
After a while, the Indiana State Police and an ambulance arrived. Rodriguez and Nieto filled them in and went back to work.
Is this the greatest act of heroism you ever heard?
No. But it meant a lot to his father.
The elder Rodriguez, 46, said he always taught his son to help a person in distress whether it was a drunk passed out on the sidewalk or a woman being abused by her boyfriend.
“If you can help, always help,” he told him. “You don’t walk by when people are in distress.”
But you don’t always know as a parent whether you are getting through to your child, and there had been plenty of times when Jesse was younger that he had been less than a model citizen, giving his father reason to doubt which life lessons had been absorbed.
“Rebellious” is how his father puts it, and even now his son carries the evidence of that rebellion in the form of tattoos that cover much of his body.
Rodriguez knows that people see his son’s tattoos, which he emphasizes are not gang tattoos, and make an unflattering judgment, evidenced by their dirty looks.
But he is a hero to his dad.
“My hero,” he told me.
I think what made Rodriguez proudest was that when his son first told him the story he said: “Dad, I jumped out just like you would.”
So many young people make foolish mistakes, but if they can just survive those danger years, they can make a contribution as adults if given the chance.
“We were hoping he would get past it, and he did it,” the proud father said.
I can’t honestly say that Jesse Rodriguez saved Jerry’s life, but I know he was there to try.