police-light-bar1.jpg2:04 PM (Bay City News): A woman who witnessed a fiery crash involving a big-rig on southbound U.S. Highway 101 in San Francisco early this morning is being lauded for saving a life after she dragged the unconscious truck driver to safety.

The crash occurred around 5 a.m. where the highway crosses over 16th Street, near Interstate Highway 80, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Keenia Williams, 22, was honored by fire and CHP officials at a noon news conference at the CHP’s San Francisco headquarters for her heroic actions.

“Seconds count in accidents like this, and without your bravery, the situation would’ve been entirely different,” San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.

Williams, a San Francisco resident, said she was driving her 5-year-old daughter to school when she looked in her rearview mirror and saw a black vehicle spin out, another car hit it, then saw the big-rig slam into the cars and overturn.

Williams said she then saw the driver of the cement truck get out of the car and pass out on the ground as fuel from the crashed big-rig caught fire a short distance away.

She said she stopped her car and “my first instinct was to run over there, put my arms under his arms and drag him all the way to my car.”

Williams got water and poured it on the truck driver’s face. The driver, later identified as 52-year-old Concord resident Michael Finerty, regained consciousness and said he was in pain, she said.

Meanwhile, fire and CHP crews had responded to the scene from the north side of the accident to put out the flames, which had engulfed the big-rig. They looked for victims, but did not immediately see Williams and Finerty on the other side of the wreckage.

“She made all the difference in the world,” Deputy Fire Chief Tom Siragusa said. “We probably wouldn’t have seen him if no one else had stopped.”

Finerty was eventually spotted with the assistance of some bystanders and was taken to San Francisco General Hospital. He suffered only minor injuries and has since been released, CHP Officer Tony Tam said this afternoon.

Williams, who works at SteppingStone’s Golden Gate Adult Day Health Center in the city, said she provides some medical care at the facility but had no experience in rescue situations before today.

“I watch too much TV, and it seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.

She said she didn’t think twice before running toward the wreckage.

“If that was me, I would’ve wanted someone to stop and save my life,” she said.

Hayes-White said she spoke to Mayor Ed Lee about Williams’ actions after the crash and said the mayor plans to honor her with a ceremony at a later date.

CHP Lt. Dane Lobb said that a while after all rescue crews had gotten to the scene, a man tried to get involved in the rescue efforts “and was being uncooperative” with authorities.

The man, whose name has not been released, was arrested on suspicion of obstructing peace officers, Lobb said.

The crash blocked all southbound lanes of Highway 101 for more than six hours while crews removed the vehicles from the roadway and repaired a damaged guardrail.

The two left lanes of the highway were opened shortly before 11:30 a.m. and the two right lanes were reopened shortly before noon, Lobb said.

Several on-ramps to the highway from San Francisco were also blocked for hours, backing up traffic throughout the city’s South of Market neighborhood.

Lobb said investigators are still trying to determine what caused the crash.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

12:03 PM (Bay City News): Two lanes of southbound U.S. Highway 101 in San Francisco reopened late this morning but the other two remain closed following a fiery early-morning big-rig crash that injured two people.

The crash was reported just after 5 a.m. where the highway crosses over 16th Street, near where Interstate Highway 80 meets Highway 101, California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Tam said.

The crash involved the big-rig and three other vehicles, Tam said.

Fuel from the truck leaked onto the roadway, sparking a fire that spread to the truck’s cab, gutting it, Tam said.

Two people were injured–the truck driver and a female who was in one of the other vehicles and complained of minor pain, Tam said.

The two left lanes of the highway were reopened shortly before 11:30 a.m., Bartlett said.

He said the two right lanes will remain closed until crews repair a guardrail on the side of the road. There was no estimate for when the highway would fully reopen, he said.

The crash prompted the closure of several on-ramps to Highway 101, including at Seventh and 10th streets, backing up traffic throughout the city’s South of Market neighborhood.

Drivers were being advised to take Interstate Highway 280 as an alternate route.

7:02 AM: A San Francisco freeway is expected to be closed for hours, and at least one person has been taken to the hospital after an early-morning big rig accident.

A cement truck was reported on fire at 5:02 a.m. on southbound U.S. Highway 101 near Cesar Chavez Street, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Bartlett. According to CHP Officer Tony Tam, this is where the freeway crosses over 16th Street, near where Interstate Highway 80 meets Highway 101,

According to reports, the truck jackknifed, igniting a fireball from the cab responders believe was a result of diesel fuel. The two 20-foot trailers the truck was pulling spilled the cement it was carrying, adding to the scene.

It is unclear how the crash happened, but Tam said it involved the truck and three other vehicles, and that the big-rig overturned.

“The fuel from the truck leaked out onto the roadway, and that’s what caught fire,” Tam said.

The fire spread to the truck’s cab, gutting it, he said.

The truck fire was out as of 6:15 a.m., according to the CHP.

Three other cars were involved in the crash. One victim of the crash, believed to be the driver, has been transported to SF General with what are believed to be major injuries. Two others received minor injuries.

All southbound traffic has been shut down. A Sig-alert has been issued, according to the CHP.

According to the CHP, this stretch of highway will be closed until at least noon today.

Mid-morning, crews were still working to upright the truck and remove it from the roadway. Caltrans was inspecting the highway for damage, Tam said.

“There’s some damage to the bridge railing and the roadway itself,” he said.

Drivers coming off the Bay Bridge can take the Fifth Street exit, then use city streets to connect with Interstate Highway 280, he said.

“There’s going to be delays coming into this area,” Tam said.

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the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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