A San Francisco woman owes her life to two men who pulled her out of her burning SUV in Napa County on Saturday, a California Highway Patrol spokesman said today.

Darcelle Chatoian drove her 2004 Ford Explorer off the side of state Highway 29 on a curve near the Lake County line at about 4:50 p.m. Saturday, CHP Officer Jaret Paulson said.

The SUV went six feet down into a ditch and struck a tree. The Explorer caught fire, and Chatoian was still sitting in the car with her seat belt fastened and was semi-conscious when 32-year-old Ryan Perez, of Napa, and 38-year-old Peter Hart, of Clearlake, came upon the scene in separate cars.

Perez said the Explorer’s engine was pushed into the firewall on the driver’s side of the SUV, and flames were coming from the engine area.

The doors of the SUV wouldn’t open because they were either locked or dented, Paulson said. The rear hatch opened, but access to the front seats was blocked.

Perez said he kicked in the driver’s window, reached in and unbuckled Chatoian’s seat belt. He didn’t realize at the time that he had cut his ankle, a wound that narrowly missed his Achilles tendon.

Perez’s girlfriend told other motorists to drive toward Middletown in Lake County and call for help because there was no cell phone service in the area.

One of the motorists who stopped had a fire extinguisher in his truck and temporarily doused the flames, Perez said.

Perez said that gave him and Hart about 30-40 seconds to pull Chatoian out of the car.
Perez said he grabbed Chatoian by her underarms and “pulled her with everything I had” through the driver’s window.

Hart grabbed Chatoian’s legs, and the two men carried her out of the ditch to the side of the road.

“Flames were coming out of the windows when we got her out,” Perez said.

Perez said he was “running on adrenaline.”

“It took five minutes to pull her out of the car and the ditch.

That’s when I saw I cut my ankle,” Perez said.

Another good Samaritan who stopped at the scene tied a tourniquet on Perez’s right leg to stop the bleeding, and Perez’s girlfriend drove him to a hospital in Lake County.

Perez said he needed Hart’s help carrying Chatoian because he had broken his right hand in an earlier injury while boxing and practicing martial arts.

“He was a great help. He tried to put the fire out with blankets and helped me by grabbing her legs,” Perez said.

“I was aware of the possibility I could die, but there was no way I could live with myself if I didn’t help,” Perez said.

Chatoian was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Perez said the CHP told him she broke her collarbone and arm.

Hospital spokeswoman Katy Hilenmeyer said Chatoian is in serious condition today.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

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