September 20, 2007 Tift County -- What was once an eighteen wheeler, is now a melted pile of charred wreckage.
"There was flames everywhere," said Eyewitness James Lawrence, who works for Archer Western Contractors.
Thirty feet away, the construction crane it crashed into in the I-75 median near the Tift-Cook County line around 6:30 Thursday morning. "He traveled off the roadway, struck a barrier, went into the median struck a crane. Actually went into this hole here," said Trooper Melvin Simmons of the Georgia State Patrol.
The crash closed both lanes I-75 while firefighters battled fuel-fed flames.
Police say the driver of the of the tractor trailer, 41-year-old Jose Alberto Rilando, was swerving for about a mile while traveling in the northbound lane before he slammed into the crane.
"Witnesses advised that he was ejected from cab," said Trooper Simmons.
In the midst of the smoldering wreckage, the trucker lay injured. What happened next, was an act of courage. "I seen the driver of the vehicle, rappelled over there next to the ditch. The first thing I could do was grab him and pull him to safety," Said Paul Stephens of Archer Western Contractors.
On the ground near the burning rig and crane, Stephens rushed to the injured trucker's aid. "I took my personal shirt off, applied a tourniquet around his right leg. His foot was severely amputated. He was coherent. I just did what any normal person would do," said Stephens.
A hard-hatted hero in the eyes of others. "Very few people would do that. It takes some guts to go out there, while the flames are all around you for you to run and up do that. We're proud to have a man like that working for us," said Lawrence.
And that deserves a pat on the back. The driver of the truck is at Tift Regional Medical where he underwent surgery.
The Georgia State Patrol says the accident remains under investigation.