Local News

'Good Samaritan' pulls man from fiery I-40 wreck

Posted January 29, 2009 4:26 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Highway Patrol says a Sanford man might not be alive today if it weren't for Clay Roberson. The former University of North Carolina football player pulled garbage-truck driver Robert Jay Leffer from a fiery, five-vehicle wreck on Interstate 40 this week.

The wreck began when Osmar Guillermo Perez Vicente, 28, cut across several lanes of eastbound traffic trying to exit onto Wade Avenue on Monday night, witnesses said. His Isuzu SUV clipped a tractor-trailer, which lost control and rolled onto the shoulder. Vicente then swerved and hit a minivan, tossing that vehicle into a garbage truck that was going west.

The garbage truck overturned and caught on fire, and that was motorist Roberson sprang into action.

"I was just instinct. It just kicked in. I had to go over there and check to see if he was OK," Roberson said.

Roberson pulled Leffer, 48, out of the burning truck.

"He (Leffer) was already on fire. I think with the air and everything, he just lit up. It was like a torch," Roberson said.

Leffer was taken to the Jaycees Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill that night and was listed in critical condition Thursday with extensive burns.

Roberson met with Leffer's family Thursday afternoon. They wanted to thank him for his bravery.

"If I was in that truck, I would've wanted someone to come to me," Roberson said.

"He has my full support. I'm always going to be praying for him. My family's going to be praying for him. If they need me, I'm definitely there for him," Roberson said.

Vicente was listed in good condition at WakeMed Thursday. Trooper Beckley Vaughan of the North Carolina Highway Patrol said that after Vicente is released from the hospital, he will face charges of careless and reckless driving and operating without a license.

Vaughan said troopers also intend to investigate whether Vicente is in the United States legally. Vicente does not speak English and told investigators, via a translator, that he has been in the U.S. looking for work for two years.

The other people involved in the wreck had minor injures and were not hospitalized.

Roberson played linebacker for the Tar Heels, redshirted in 1998 and playing until 2003.